Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson talks all the time about how crucial the offseason is for any program that wants to be successful in the fall. Right his football team is working hard in the weight room as they are only a week away from getting back on the field for spring practice. Peegs.com recently sat down with Mark Hill, the head strength and condition coach for the IU football program, to talk about offseason conditioning for the players and how he feels about the progress they are making in that department.
Hill said the team is doing a great job in winter conditioning and a big reason why is because they know exactly what is expected of them and they are attacking it with the right mindset.
"I think the off-season is going well," Hill said. "This is actually our fourth off-season since we've been here. Guys are turning it on and the leadership is coming through. We had a lot of young guys at the beginning of off-season number two but now those guys are older and they're seasoned and they've been here a while so they know what to expect. They know the demands that we put forth towards them and they meet our expectations and do a great job of attacking every workout and coming in here to get better every day with a high energy level. They make it fun while they are in the process of getting better."
Now that the players have had four years to get accustomed to the strength and conditioning plan that is in place Hill said they are able to ask them to do more and more because they know the players can handle it.
"You just progress with the plan," he said when asked if the program they implemented when they arrived has changed at all. "Year one was teaching them and instructing them all the things you want. We were bringing in a new system so there was a lot of learning going on in that. Year two was a lot smoother because the guys know what to expect. Year three you just start adding a little bit more and you throw some more stuff in there and you challenge them a little bit because they know what to expect. Year is four is let's just make it as demanding as possible with us throwing different things in there. Now we need to tweak some things to get to a certain place as far as gaining mass? Absolutely, but everybody is trying to get bigger and more explosive. Every workout is geared towards that because winter conditioning is the optimal time to gain size, gain mass, gain weight. But we're also not just trying to get slow and stack on weight and not have the ability to be explosive and move with the weight."
Hill said strength and conditioning works hand-in-hand with nutrition when it comes to helping guys add weight or lose it.
"It's a balance between nutrition and what we do with them," Hill said. "We meet with (program nutritionist) Amy Freel and we have a plan for both of those guys. If there is a guy that we want to gain weight we narrow it down to we want him to get three percent of his body weight within an eight week period. We set weekly goals and we set a long-term goal and we try to help him meet that by meeting with Amy Freel and also by monitoring his weight and making sure he meets those weight goals each week and by monitoring what he eats. If you have a guy that needs to lose weight it is the same thing. He has to meet with Amy Freel and he has to understand what he needs to put in his system and what he needs to eat and any extra cardio that he might have to do on top of the things that we do on a daily basis. So those guys are responsible but my strength staff and I monitor everything very, very closely."
What a guy eats on a daily basis is a very important component of his strength and conditioning and it something that is taken very seriously by Coach Hill and his staff.
"We give them two meals a day here," he said when asked about helping the players with their diets. "They get a continental breakfast along with a lunch and a dinner. We have strength staff at those meals and those guys who we call our weight concern guys whether we are concerned about their weight going up or down, those guys have to sit and eat with the strength coaches at the meals we provide for them. So with that if they know how to eat the proper way when they go away they have a goal. They are always going to be thrown on a scale and they have to meet their weight or pay the consequences of not meeting that weight."
With over 100 players currently on the roster Coach Hill said it is essential that he has a staff that is an extension of him and he is very confident that is the case.
"Right now we have 107 guys in winter conditioning and that is a lot of guys, but I have a great staff that is able to take pressure off of me," he said when asked about the other strength coaches on staff. "I don't have to sit here and look or micro-manage anything they're doing. I have a staff of five including myself and they all do a tremendous job with training these guys and maintaining what I call organized chaos in the weight room. We have 30-35 guys going at a time based off of their class schedule and the things we're trying to get done since we are on a morning practice schedule. So my staff is able to train guys on different things without a lot of guys standing around. I can confidently say that each one of my strength coaches will train somebody as hard as I will so I know those guys are getting the proper training. I don't have to watch them because I know they are getting everything they need and they are progressing in their strength level and their explosive level."
In the four years that Coach Hill and his staff have worked with the players they have made noticeable progress when it comes to the development of the players, and he said that all goes back to the vision Coach Wilson had when he took over the program.
"I can remember when I was an assistant strength coach at Oklahoma and Coach Wilson was the offensive coordinator he was a big supporter of (Oklahoma strength coach) Jerry Schmidt and the strength staff and the things we did," Hill said about working with Coach Wilson. "He was a big believer in that is the way you get an edge no matter how good or how talented you are. With that he wanted to make sure he brought in the staff that he trusted to get the things done that he needed to get done. He stays in it but he is not an over-managing coach. He tells me what he wants to get done this off-season and lets me make the plan to get it done and that is the best thing about it. I have the demands of what he wants but he gives me the freedom to put that plan together to achieve the things that he wants to see done in a particular off-season or preseason or what not. It is a great deal and it is great to have the support from the head coach and the vision he has with the strength and conditioning part of it."
Hill said that when recruits come on campus and meet with him the message he delivers is simple - the level of training and expertise that they will receive when it comes to strength and conditioning is second to none.
"The one thing I let them know, and this is not disrespect to any other program, is they are not going to go to any other program and get anything better," he said about his message to prospects that visit Indiana. "We are on the same level with all the major programs no matter who the strength coach is or how big their weight room is or how new it is. Recruits who come here are going to get trained the proper way. My message to them is that with each and every year we want to get that much better with each and every phase of our training. We want them to be a lot farther off from what they were when they start to the time they leave the program. I tell them to let us have that vision for you and how hard you want to work. I tell them you come in with the right attitude but we are going to take it to a new level in every single aspect. If they come here they are going to get the things they need so I tell them to look at me and ask themselves if they can be around that guy for four years and 70 percent of the time."
Hill said that he knows the program is not where it needs to be as far as wins and losses, but he sees the gains they are making in all aspects and he has no doubt that they are close to having the kind of success they have been working so hard to achieve.
"I'd like to have the confidence to say we haven't lost a lot of games because we were out of shape or because we weren't physically fit or strong," he said. "Yeah we're young and yeah we're maturing and yeah we're developing, but our guys hit it as hard if not harder than most programs we play. So with that we've just got to keep coming. We've had a lot of close games and just a couple plays away from being where we want to be, but it doesn't count. With strength and conditioning we can develop our athletes as good as anybody. You can see the gains in mass and weight and size and explosiveness and everything else, but in the end it is still about wins and losses. That is really what it's about so we're going to keep pushing and I have every confidence in the things we're doing here and we're getting better. We're close and I know nobody wants to hear that and I don't like to hear it because 5-7 is not good enough for me either, but we've just got to keep getting better and I'm confident it will turn into the results we want."