Wolfson: New Gophers strength coach preaching hard work 7 days a week
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When I sat down in December with Gophers coach Jerry Kill's college roommate, Carleton athletic director Gerald Young, he couldn't stop raving about new strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein.
Admittedly, Young has a biased opinion of Klein, since the two have known each other since the early 90's. But I bought in. Young is as genuine an individual as I've come across since rejoining 5 Eyewitness News.
Thanks to Young -- whose story I told in this video -- Klein connected with Kill and, since 1994, has been responsible for training all of Kill's players.
I chatted with Klein, as well as Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray, for a few minutes following Friday's 6 a.m. conditioning session.
Klein: 'I'm an everything guy'
In your post-workout speech to the team, you put a heavy emphasis on working hard seven days a week. Can you expound on that?
EK: What we were talking about was investing in themselves. We put in five days of work during the week, but it's what they do on the weekend that is gonna set them apart from their teammates (and) from the other teams in the country. Doing the extra things -- sleeping over the weekend, eating properly, some of the guys need to stretch extra -- whatever it is, just a little bit of an investment will set them apart from their competition.
Are you seeing that investment?
EK: I think we are. We are seeing great improvements since we started. Guys are a little more flexible, run a little better, are stronger. Things are good.
I heard you emphasize "repeat" to the guys... what do you mean by that?
EK: The game is all about repeating performance on every single play. The offense can get a 9-yard first down gain, but if they get a sack or a tackle for a loss on second down, now they're in a hole for third down. They have to be able to repeat performance every play that they get a chance. Just like when we work out, they have to have a good workout on Monday, a good workout on Tuesday. We're runnin' in the morning, lifting in the afternoon. They have to work hard morning and afternoon. Then with each rep, they have to do it again and again. If they train themselves now, they'll be able to do it when they come to practice. Then they do it in practice, and it becomes a habit in the game.
What was the players' initial reaction to the 6 a.m. workouts?
EK: Just like anyone who is told they have to get up early, it's not a great reaction. But they know we have limited opportunities to get everyone together to do a team workout. Six a.m. is when we do it, so you bite the bullet and get it over with.
Can you take me through the NCAA rules for what is allowed in January and February?
EK: The strength coaches run the workouts. Because we have a new staff, the coaches are around watching because they need to figure out who's who. Until they got off the road from recruiting, I could tell a coach about a player and they might not have known a face for a name. Now, they're learning that. It's all about that background and building that relationship.
Can they also observe in the weight room?
EK: The only time they can't is when the guys do a captain's practice, stuff like that.
Take me through a typical weekday, let's say Friday ...
EK: We start at 6. We are done a little before 7. We have breakfast for the guys. They have class during the day, and then we start at 1 o'clock (in the weight room). We have three lifting groups. The last group finishes at 5 o'clock. We'll do an upper body lift to get them out for the weekend.
So, upper body a couple days a week, and same for the lower body?
EK: We're on a four-day split, so two days lower. We're an Olympic-based, ground-based lifting team. Two days lower-body Olympic lifts, some pulls, that type of thing, and two days a week, we do the upper body -- bench, overhead presses, things like that.
Are you more a speed guy than strength guy?
EK: I'm an everything guy. I totally believe in the total development of the athlete. You can't just do one over the other, or you're doing a disservice to the athlete. You have to encompass everything. Today, we did range of motion training. We did our warm-up with hurdles. We finished with a stretch -- that's range of motion. We'll hit our strength this afternoon. We worked speed mechanics, some lateral speed today. Then our agility we did before we did some conditioning. It's the whole package. The fundamental underneath is power. You can equate power and speed somewhat because they both are about how fast you can get something done. It's no different from a boxer who wants to be first to the punch and be powerful. We want to be first to the punch and do that repeatedly.
How much progress have you seen since the first workout six weeks ago?
EK: We've gotten better each and every day. Guys are learning how to work and push themselves. It started with guys getting tired after 10 minutes, then it pushed to 15, then it went to 20. It's all a part of the process. We want to be able to go hard start to finish. We are starting to get to that point further each workout.
It's amazing that you spent an entire hour on fundamental range of motion drills.
EK: There's a lot of work that goes into a football team besides the Xs and Os. The guys have their strength and conditioning responsibilities, guys have academic responsibilities, guys do community service -- there's a lot of parts that make up the whole of a football team.
How far did they run in total?
EK: It was just short of a mile, at least today.
And you separate, with what, the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs running the most?
EK: Yes. We do it by position. (Receivers and defensive backs) have to be able to run down the field and hustle back to the huddle, then go again. Those front seven guys don't have to run as far, but they have to be in great shape to get to the huddle -- they have to hear the play call, know what it is, and have a clear mind, not sucking wind.
The T-shirts -- front says "I let my teammates down," back says "Minnesota Loafers" ...
EK: That is a part of our player policy. If they are late, miss something, anything academically, meetings, they have to wear that shirt for a week and they have to do extra conditioning.
Gray: 'I can't wait to start spring ball'
Four days of running at 6 a.m. this week -- how are you physically?
MG: It's not the first week we've had it, so each week it gets better. My body is getting used to it. I'm feeling great.
What was your initial reaction to these 6 a.m. workouts?
MG: At first I was like, 'Oh, man,' because last year we only started a couple weeks before spring break. But this year we started right when we got back (from winter break). It was something to get used to. Our team is doing great adjusting to it.
Do you see noticeable improvement from 6 weeks ago to now?
MG: Now, when we get up, everyone has a smile on their face. We know what is expected of all of us, and the coaches know what's expected of us. Plus, it gets us ready to go to class early in the morning.
Coach Klein says to be great, you have to work hard seven days a week. Do you buy into that?
MG: I believe in that 100 percent. If you're trying to be the best and improve, then you have to stay focused and get prepared every day of the week. You can't take any days off. That's what Coach Kill believes, and he's gonna get that into us one way or another.
Do you feel like you're in the best shape of your life?
MG: Oh, yeah. I'm getting better each week. We're doing more running than we've done in the past, and I feel like that's gonna benefit us because coach Kill said you can't play for him unless you're fast. He's gonna get us into shape.
How much are you picking up a football?
MG: I watch film of Northern Illinois and try and learn their offense as much I can. That's before lifting, or before our team dinner. I also talk to my coach so I can be ready for spring ball.
Are you ready to embrace the role of leader of this team?
MG: I'm ready 100 percent. I still have stuff to work on, but I have time. One of the things I'm focusing on this spring is being a vocal leader -- getting this team in shape to compete next year.
It has to excite you to now be 'the guy' ...
MG: I really haven't played quarterback since my senior year in high school. I'm looking forward to getting back into it.
Where do you need to take your body so you can handle the punishment a QB takes?
MG: With all the running, I just want to gain five more pounds and be 235. As long as its muscle, I'll be good.
Do you feel like you still have to earn the starting job?
MG: Yes. We have a whole new coaching staff. They don't know how we are on the field, so everyone is competing for a job. Myself, I will compete for the quarterback job.
I saw receiver Brandon Green out there, who didn't have a catch last season because of a knee injury. I bet it's nice to see him.
MG: He's in the best shape he's been in. He's worked hard to get his knees back right. He's looking good when we go and throw the ball. He's cutting fast. He runs great routes.
Who else sticks out?
MG: Of course, Da'Jon McKnight, and incoming juco Ge'Shun Harris. He has some nice hands, and they are huge. He has great speed.
All these weapons have to excite you?
MG: I can't wait to start spring ball and see what we do with the pads on.
How about in the weight room -- what kind of strides have you made?
MG: Just getting bigger. They have us doing a lot more reps as opposed to heavy sets.
Are you buying in? Do you feel that this way of doing things is better than the previous regime?
MG: I just feel like it's totally different. Both could benefit any player. It's up to us.
What do you have to prove?
MG: Play all four quarters. We have a new staff, we have new players coming in, we all need to play together.