“Go to Work.” The mantra repeated before each football offseason echoes throughout the Big Blue Nation, but what exactly does it mean? In part three of the KSR Summer Series (Part One, Part Two), we explore what happens to the freshmen once they step on campus in June.
The de-recruitment process begins in the weight room.
For months and months, the SEC-bound football players stand in the spotlight and receive unending praise from family, friends and coaches. Once they step on campus, life comes at them fast.
It’s a whole new world. They are living on their own for the first time. There’s nobody there to cook, clean, do laundry or tell them where to be. When that alarm sounds for 6:00 a.m. workouts, they have to make the choice to get up, or hit the snooze button and face the consequences.
Twenty-four incoming freshmen are facing a life-changing transition. The University of Kentucky has many resources to help them adjust in the dorms and in the classroom. Corey Edmond and Mark Hill are their resources to adjust to SEC football.
Move In Day 2018
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) June 4, 2018
When children begin Kindergarten, they are taught the basics. It takes time to learn the alphabet, and even more time to learn how to politely share with peers, but it eventually sticks. The same can be said for kids entering college football.
The two things Kentucky Football’s Directors of Performance must teach more than anything when freshmen arrive on campus is how to eat and sleep. Every person reading this has mastered those basic human functions, but it means something completely different for SEC football players.
“If you don’t fuel properly, you’re not going to be able to sustain a practice,” Edmond said last week in a conversation with KSR. “The little things like that, teaching them how to eat, sleep, those type of things is first and foremost, paramount before you even start or you won’t be able to make it through the warm-up of a training session, unless all those boxes are checked.”
Once the freshmen figure out how to fill their tanks, the next step is preparing for practice. Likely a mundane task in high school, the SEC practice fields are more intense than any game they’ve ever played.
“What people don’t understand, one practice to them is like a game in high school. One thing we have to do is not only physically prepare them, but mentally prepare them for the rigors of practice,” Coach Ed said.
Before the freshmen can conquer that task, they’ll be tested in the weight room. There will be measurements, physicals, lifting tutorials, maxing-out and much more. In their first week or two on campus, Edmond and Hill are searching for the parameters each player falls within. Some might have worked their tails off to be ready for preseason training, while others…
“Even with it being SEC and some of these guys being highly recruited, their level of experience with certain lifting is not what you would think it would be and you have to be prepared for that,” Hill said. “It’s our job to find out what they can and can’t do. Teach them what we need them to do. Safety is paramount, a lot of injuries can occur in the weight room.”
Even after the basics are mastered, there’s still much more walking to do before they can run.
The freshmen have already taken a few steps to create a blueprint for success, but no foundation has been laid. Arguably the most important part of the process does not happen overnight.
“That’s slow-cooked,” said Coach Ed. “I don’t care what you think you’re ranked in the country, how good of a guy that comes in that wants to play, you can’t fast-cook that because the body takes awhile to adapt. They’re probably not going to adapt in the first year.”
A foundation is strong. No matter what happens around it, a foundation will remain stable or the entire building will collapse. When adversity inevitably hits the fan in the middle of their first semester of college, the freshmen football players must not crumble under pressure.
“They’re on a pitch count almost. [If] You try to bring those guys in hot off the bat, by the sixth or seventh game, you look across the country, you’re going to see a decline in performance, because by that sixth or seventh game you’re going to hit exams, you’re going to hit all the white noise that goes on playing collegiate football, so you gotta bring those guys along slowly and continue to add to their reps through the course of the week.
“It’s more of a physchological adjustment than a physical adjustment.”
While preparing the players for the mental strain, they’re also teaching them to perfect their form. Elite athleticism enabled them in high school. In college that won’t cut it.
“Dude, it’s a different deal,” said Edmond. “Most of these guys are uncoordinated and don’t know how to move their bodies yet, but we’re enamored by some of the athletic numbers that they’ve put up. You’ve got to understand, if you’re racing against slow cars, you seem fast. You’re racing against fast cars, there’s a technique that has to come involved with that, because one fatal move will put you in the training room….You’re moving into the NASCAR. You’re moving into the big time.”
Arguably the sharpest learning curve is at cornerback. Typically the best and most agile athletes on the field, that athleticism was probably not tested too much in high school. Everybody is that fast in the SEC. Now it takes an efficient back pedal, coupled with a quick twist and an opening of the hips to break on the ball and attack with strong hands at the perfect spot to disrupt the receiver. That level of proficiency isn’t learned overnight.
“They got be able to coordinate their bodies the correct way to be as efficient as they can be, and it takes time to do that.”
Not everyone can master the art of SEC football in a few months. For about half of the 24 freshmen in the 2018 recruiting class, they’ll spend the year rocking a redshirt.
Offensive linemen are the most likely candidates. Since Mark Stoops arrived at Kentucky, only Landon Young and George Asafo-Adjei have played as true freshman. This year that could change with the NCAA’s new redshirt rule. Players can now participate in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. That will certainly change the strategy at the top of the chain of command, but Hill and Edmond will not treat the freshmen any differently.
“We’re going to train you based upon how much you’re going to play,” Edmond said. “If you’re playing 70 percent of the time, you’re going to do a different workout. If you’re playing 45-50 percent of the time, there’s going to be probably more volume in your workout. If you’re playing 20 percent of the time, then you can go through a full deal. That’s how we look at it because that’s how you can get guys to step right into a position.”
Even though the freshman might not enter the game, they’re making sure he’s prepared to play at a moment’s notice, something Landon Young had to do at Florida in the second game of his career.
“If he can’t get enough reps in the game then we have to replicate that, whether it be in practice or some type of training after practice to give them the necessary training to allow him to not miss a beat once they get into the game”
From the time the freshmen arrive on campus until they finally hit the field, it’s a long process filled ups and downs. The journey to the football field is a learning experience. If passed, it establishes a foundation for the players to build on for the next four years.