Nebraska football’s winter conditioning was difficult. The players knew it would be, especially after 7½ weeks away from the football field.
Coach Scott Frost and his head strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval also knew there would be a learning curve, and there were bumps along the way. One of those bumps was the hospitalization of two players with rhabdomyolysis early in winter conditioning.
That could have been a bad omen for the team overall. Instead, the Huskers bounced back and made impressive strides over the last two months.
“Players have adjusted well,” Frost said at his first spring football press conference. “We’ve gotten a lot of buy-in from the players, a lot of effort out of the players and I see a lot of excitement. They’ve adjusted to workouts really well and we’ve already seen huge gains from a lot of the workouts they’ve been doing.
“Zach Duval is as good as there is in the business and before-and-after pictures and gains in the weight room and on the field have been pretty apparent to the coaches.”
So, exactly how impressive were the gains Nebraska players made this winter? Tommy Jensen, assistant director of sports nutrition for the Huskers, shared a little insight. In a now deleted tweet, Jensen shared that the Huskers had lost a combined 389 pounds of fat, gained 436 pounds of muscle, and lost an average of 2.8 percent body fat. That’s 1,362,200 calories in fat lost overall.
East Mississippi Community College wide receiver transfer Mike Williams, for example, weighed 160 pounds when he arrived at Nebraska. By mid-February, Duval tweeted that Williams had added 11 pounds during winter conditioning. Today? He’s listed at 175 pounds on Nebraska’s roster.
And then there’s Ben Stille, who has moved back to the defensive line after spending a season at outside linebacker. He’s added 20 pounds since January, weighing about 280 pounds now.
It wasn’t easy, though. Senior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg called Duval’s winter training “very intense.” Senior offensive lineman Jerald Foster called it “tough and challenging.” Their teammates seem to agree.
“There have been times when we need to push ourselves to be better, but I’ve enjoyed it,” Foster said. “We’ve been bringing the positivity, the aggression to these workouts. Yes, they have been tough, but that is what our strength staff is there for. They’re there to push us, they’re there to get us ready to play. I’ve enjoyed myself.
“I feel like the seniors and all the other leaders have been able to showcase themselves out there.”
Part of making those gains has been adjusting schedules. Stoltenberg was placed in Duval’s 6 a.m. conditioning group, which consisted of the offensive and defensive lines. While it took some getting used to, Stoltenberg now views the early-morning workouts as a “badge of honor.”
It’s fitting that Frost hosted a web series at Central Florida titled “Rise and Conquer.” That belief of rising and conquering the day is exactly why he hopes to keep morning workouts going with Nebraska.
And the Huskers have embraced it.
“We want to come in there and be ready to roll at 6 a.m. when the other guys are still sleeping,” Stoltenberg said. “It is fun.You know we always say it starts with the trenches. So definitely the D-line lift groups should be the best and should be the hardest working. So, it was something we wanted to emphasize.”
Nebraska kicked off spring practice (and the end of winter conditioning) last week, with the first practice held Friday morning. While practice started at 6 a.m., players started arriving at the Hawks Championship Center at 4 a.m. After two months of early-morning conditioning, it was as if it had already become second nature to the group.
When players walked into practice Friday, many looked quite a bit different than they had two months ago. There’s plenty of room for more improvement, but Frost is pleased with the gains he’s seen.
“I’ve seen some before-[and]-after pictures and it kind of looks like The Biggest Loser,” Frost said of winter conditioning on a recent Sports Nightly. “You see a picture of someone seven weeks ago before they started with Coach Duval, and there’s guys making really good gains and cutting body fat.”
As for the players, they’re just as pleased. They knew it would be tough, but the strides they’ve made individually and as a team have been worth it.
“Whatever it is, I do feel like we’ve come together as a team through this offseason and I’m happy to see the results,” Foster said.