LINCOLN, Neb. — It was a quiet Wednesday morning at Memorial Stadium on May 31. The sun was just starting to rise and the University of Nebraska was still asleep. Yet, a group of men in red, white and black warmups emerged from cars in the parking lot north of the stadium.
Time to get back in the lab.
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) May 31, 2017
Summer is often a time for college students to sleep in, relax and enjoy a little time off. That’s not the case for student-athletes, and Nebraska is no exception to the rule. Every June, Huskers football players report to Memorial Stadium for summer conditioning. It’s not mandatory — at least not in the eyes of the NCAA — but it might as well be.
“It’s not mandatory by law but it is because if you miss, you’re paying a price,” former Huskers kicker Spencer Lindsay said.
With summer workouts in full swing, Lindsay, who played for Nebraska from 2012-16, knows exactly what his former teammates are up to. The format this year has shifted slightly from last, but the overall idea is the same. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are for running and lifting. Wednesday is for skill work and drills. Saturday and Sunday are for rest.
It’s a schedule that has Nebraska athletes at the stadium as early as 6:45 a.m. each weekday. While class always takes precedence, the schedule is full. Between running, lifting and position work, the athletes are busy Monday through Friday.
A sample of strength and conditioning coach Mark Philipp’s conditioning plan highlights just how busy they are. The program builds over the summer, requiring more and more from the athletes as they progress.
Lindsay considers June the start of football season. In his opinion, May is really the only month off in the collegiate football world. Once June rolls around, the work begins and there’s no excuse to miss.
Penalties could include a meeting with the player’s position coach or extra drills. A player would never be removed from the team or summer conditioning for missed days, but there are consequences. Lindsay even joked that a player may as well “pack up his bags and go” if he missed or was late.
Former wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp never worried about his teammates not showing up. The consequences were left to the team directly, which Westerkamp appreciated. It was a way to hold each other accountable.
“When you’re not there, your teammates are asking, ‘Where is this guy? Why isn’t he here? We can’t count on him to be here and be ready to play with us,’” Westerkamp said. “It’s a huge ownership thing. All of the guys I’ve been around, there is no question that you’re going to be there.”
One exception to the rule is class. For players in summer school, class trumps all. Running and lifting are typically split by groups on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The athletes will start their day by running, followed by lifting. If a player has a summer class that interferes with that, Phillip and his staff will offer additional times in the afternoon.
“They’d have a lift in the afternoon for the guys that had class because class took precedence over lifting,” Lindsay said. “If you were in a summer class and it conflicted with the lifting schedule, they’d have to make a special time for you. If that was you, you’d come back for one at 2:45 or 3 and then there’d be another one at 3:30.”
Nebraska made a few adjustments to the conditioning schedule this year. Instead of placing everything in the morning, the running and lifting schedules are spaced more evenly throughout the day. The number of hours the athletes put in are still the same (per the NCAA), but the timing is just a little different.
Change to the format is common, according to Westerkamp. From 2012-16, he experienced a couple of changes. That included the time players had to report to the stadium.
“When I first got [to Nebraska] as a freshman, we had to be up at four in the morning and get there for our workouts at five,” Westerkamp said. “That was a long time ago but it was crazy. You’d walk from the dorms and it’d still be dark out.”
One thing that never changed for Westerkamp personally is his appreciation for summer conditioning. While busy, he felt the strength and conditioning coaches did a great job preparing the team for the fall. Plus, it was time for the new freshmen and veterans to bond away from the stress of the season.
“I just loved the experience of being with my team and getting better,” Westerkamp said.
Nebraska is now a week-and-a-half into summer conditioning for 2017. While the weekend is quiet, Memorial Stadium will come back to life Monday morning. Players will walk from their cars into Memorial Stadium before the crack of dawn once again, all with the intention to get just a little faster and stronger before fall just like Lindsay, Westerkamp and so many others have done before.