July 18, 2013
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. — Paul Jackson arrives at his office in the Indoor Practice Facility just before 6 a.m. on Friday morning.
The first group of players starts its lifts shortly thereafter at 6:30, then three groups follow 45 minutes after the first one. After a break, the team divides into two groups for afternoon runs at 2:30 and 3:30, centered on 20 full-speed sprints.
That’s a regular day of summer workouts for the football team, and both the intensity and tempo have been ratcheted up in year two under the direction of Jackson, the Ole Miss Rebels’ head strength and conditioning coach.
“There's less basic instruction because they understand the format of what we are doing on a daily basis and they understand the expectations. Those things were established already,” Jackson said of the second year of his strength and conditioning program.
“We are able to try to push the limits as far as the intensity, and not just the intensity, but also the quality of the work we are doing, such as faster sprints and heavier weights, which means you have to back up in terms of volume, how much stuff you are doing.”
The team works out 10 times a week over four days, which includes a morning lifting session, followed by an afternoon running session on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Each workout is designed to develop and improve different football-relevant attributes, from explosiveness, to change of direction, to body control, to agility, to general speed and power.
The team also breaks up for 7-on-7 and lineman drills on Mondays and Thursdays.
“This summer, I have challenged them,” Jackson said. “I have tried to come up with lifting and conditioning that the normal college athlete could not succeed at. I'm not designing the program for just the average collegiate athlete.
“I'm training guys at a championship-caliber level, so some of our guys haven't had as much success this summer, but that's not because they weren't in shape. They have been in shape all year. I feel like they came in this summer in shape already, so some of it was the challenge to push and see what we could do.”
All About The Tempo
With such an emphasis placed on the fast tempo in practices and games, Jackson said the strength and conditioning program is designed to condition players to be able to confidently handle that tempo and be used to going full speed all the time.
“All our conditioning stuff is full-speed drills,” Jackson said. “They're in the habit of four days a week, and twice on some days, they're running and they're used to making those full-speed actions, and doing it repeatedly.
“It becomes a mentality, a habit, where we're not taking plays off. It's hard in practice sometimes to monitor effort, but if I have a watch on them, I know if they're making the times or not, so we hold them accountable to a certain intensity during each workout.”
Jackson added that it’s all about tempo, even when the workouts consist of heavy lifting, and it’s not a traditional program with three-to-five minutes’ rest between sets.
He described his program as a mix of his previous experience, from similar positions at Southern Miss and Miami (Ohio), to working under strength and conditioning legend Tommy Moffitt at LSU.
“We try to go as fast as we can all the time,” Jackson said. “All of that is now exaggerated because I work with a coach who wants to push the tempo on offense. But that's my training philosophy anyway.
“It's easy to sell to the kids. And it matches up more consistently with practice. I don't like sitting around. I don't like having two-hour workouts. I like coming in, going fast and getting it done, so it just matches up well with the tempo.”
Beyond the 10 workouts over four days, Jackson said a lot of players come in on Wednesdays, which is their scheduled off day, as well as Saturdays. Jackson said the players know it’s a general speed and power program; however, each individual has his own needs also.
“We're in here our eight hours a week, which I can make them do and I maximize those,” Jackson said. “But we may not have been able to address all of your specific issues in those eight hours, so if there's something else you need to do, we can design a program that fits into the basic program, but they have to be willing to come in and put in the work in some non-mandatory time.”
Workout Warriors, Leadership In The Room
When asked about players who have stood out this summer, Jackson scanned his workout roster, and he then began rattling off names, starting with Bo Wallace, who is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery in January.
“Every time people ask me this, I always feel like I leave people out, but there really is a large group of guys who are doing well,” Jackson said. “Right off the top, and I know he is coming off surgery, Bo Wallace really does attack these workouts.”
Jackson also singled out Donte Moncrief, Pierce Burton, Bryon Bennett, Woodrow Hamilton and John Youngblood, who Jackson said is going to really surprise some people this season. Moncrief was also mentioned as one of the team’s leaders in workouts this summer.
“We have D.T. Shackelford back in the mix, and he's helping big-time with that,” Jackson said of leadership. “Donte may not be our vocal guy, but as far as grooming our young receivers and taking them under the wing, he's doing a great job of making sure they're doing the right things and teaching them.
“Mike Marry is another guy who does right, and the team listens when he talks. And we're still trying to develop more leaders, and always coming up with ways to do that. “
Freshman Class Makes Immediate Impression
Ole Miss landed a historic class on National Signing Day, a consensus top-10 class, headlined by 11 All-Americans, and Jackson and his staff are already enjoying the fruits of that labor this summer.
“Our freshman class, I'm excited about,” Jackson said. “I think we have some guys in there with some natural leadership abilities, some very competitive, some very proud young guys who have done a really good job so far.
“Laquon Treadwell is everything they said he was. Robert Nkemdiche is everything they said he was. Austin Golson is an absolute monster, just attacking, competing and working hard every day. Those guys are really excelling.”
Jackson was quick to say head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff did a great job recruiting this year. With consensus top recruit Robert Nkemdiche as an example at 290 pounds, Jackson said the class walked in the door much more physically mature than previous classes and a lot of the classes he even had at LSU, and it has showed this summer.
“These guys are very physically mature and because they're elite-level athletes, they're able to absorb the high threshold-type training. It's not too much for them to be able to adapt to it,” Jackson said.
“That class overall from top to bottom has been very impressive physically. I knew that they were going to be impressive physically. I'm impressed with the way they are attitude-wise and mentally, the approach they have to become a really good program.”
With players from the class enrolled in the summer school sessions, or having already been enrolled for this past spring semester, they are getting used to the academic side of being in college, such as the workload and tutoring sessions, but also the physical side, from the summer workouts, to the start of fall practice.
"Physically, we have to get up to speed as quickly as we can because most of them are not going to redshirt,” Jackson said. “Now for them, for their physical development, it's obviously important.
“If they have any chance of playing this year, they need to come in and get around [the older players], and earn the team's respect and get up to speed because our other guys have been training all year.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller