ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Chris Evans is about to jump out of his skin.
He isn’t scared. Quite the opposite. Working with Ben Herbert, the Michigan football program’s new director of strength and conditioning, has energized the running back.
Michigan announced the hire of Herbert from Arkansas four days after its loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. Less than two weeks into spring practices, Michigan players are gushing about the gains they have made in working with Herbert.
“I feel a lot more elusive,” Evans said, noting that he feels stronger and quicker even after putting on four pounds in the offseason. “It’s been helping me tremendously, especially in pass protection.”
Running back Karan Higdon says he feels faster and in better shape. He also notices the emphasis Herbert puts on the work Michigan players do away from the field, such as soft-tissue work with foam rollers, stretching exercises before and after practice, the value of a good night’s sleep and eating balanced meals.
Herbert was a defensive lineman at Wisconsin and worked as the Badgers’ director of strength and conditioning from 2009 to 2012. He held the same position at Arkansas from 2013-17.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh noted in February how detail-oriented Herbert has been. He has a few unorthodox practices, too, such as creating a “sundae bar” at Arkansas that included kale and avocado for energy drinks.
At Michigan, Herbert has set a certain tone during offseason workouts. Linebacker Devin Bush Jr. said the players started doing things they’d never done in training. Different lifts. Different running drills. Working with Herbert made them take a new mindset regarding conditioning.
Herbert, Bush said, places an emphasis on accountability.
“He really made us grow up,” Bush said. “Even though we had to take things in perspective and hold each other accountable, for things that we’d done off the field and on the field. He really made you dig deep and realize that this sport is hard. If you want to be successful in this sport, you have to put the hard work in.
“He expressed that to us, and he expressed to us about taking care of yourself as an athlete and carrying yourself a certain way.”
Higdon says there’s an overall purpose to Herbert’s philosophy: “Take care of your body. That’s your moneymaker.”
It’s an investment for the Wolverines. Many have high hopes of playing professional football. They believe what Herbert is doing — as unusual as it may seem as times — will pay long-term dividends.
“He’s building a huge foundation for me,” Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich said. “There’s a difference between doing something as a coach, and the coaches know it’s going to apply in this way. But the difference is, the players have really bought into what Coach Herbert has done. A, the man means business and B, he does a great job of explaining exactly how what we do translates to the football field.
“The stuff we do, from the handwork to the striking to the strength stuff, I felt like I was prepared as ever, if not more prepared. And that’s a large credit to him.”