Spring training, which is open to the public, starts Friday at 3:40 with the Rebs in shorts and…
Offseason a success
But first things first.
"There's a constant battle mankind has had about maintaining, sustaining and building on success. It's a hard thing to do if you aren't aware of the pitfalls of having some success," Decker said. "What happens is you forget what brought you that success in the first place and quit doing the things that got you to a higher level."
The coaching staff issued a warning, if you will, to the team prior to the offseason.
"Let's not forget what got us to 9-4. When people are patting you on the back and telling you how great you are, it's easy to get caught up in that mindset where you are feeling pretty good about yourself and you think more success will be easy," Don stated. "It's not.
"Those are the things we warned our players of when they came back to school for second semester and we immediately started into the offseason program. We had individual goals we wanted to accomplish, but the main point we wanted to drive home during the offseason was for our players to continue to do what got us to 9-4."
Coach Nutt called on the returning members of the team to start establishing leadership and for each and every player to take ownership of the team, just as the seniors and the rest of them did during the 2008 campaign.
"I was pleased to see we had the same type of hunger in the offseason that we had last season," Don noted. "That was huge for us this offseason, and as a result, the individual and team goals were met."
Nutt understands the urgency and importance of a successful offseason program. It sets the tone for the whole season and he entrusts that responsibility to Decker and his staff during a time when Houston and the assistant coaches are on the road recruiting and planning for spring training.
"Coach Nutt gives us the opportunity to be the gatekeepers of the high standard he sets for the team during that time and it's not something we take lightly," said Decker. "The challenge to the team was clear - the standards will not change, regardless of the success we had last year. That's over. It's time to move on.
"We told the team it's not going to get easier. In fact, we were going to raise the bar a little from last year's offseason program."
Decker had three goals for the team during the offseason. Do those three things and let the chips fall where they may, but Don was keenly aware adherence to that standard would produce results.
"The given is everyone giving great effort. Second, we are going to pay attention to details and third, we are going to finish everything we do," he noted. "If you do those things, you have a chance.
"To me, it's the little things, like every guy finishing through the line or making every lift properly, that make a difference. Every single day making sure every single guy does every single thing he's supposed to. That can be such a grind and sometimes it's importance is questioned, but it is what separates winners from losers. The reason we are so fanatical about the little things is it was the little things that bit us in the shorts in our four losses last year. It wasn't being overpowered or opponents being better, it was us not doing the little things right. Once we started doing the little things correctly, we started winning and we kept winning.
"Then, there is finishing. If you get in a habit of doing everything right from start to finish, it will carry over to everything you do."
The Rebs responded by doing the three things Decker requested and demanded and the results were 19 position records, including two school records.
The school records, meaning all positions combined, were DT Ted Laurent manhandling a massive squat of 660 pounds and LG Rishaw Johnson power cleaning 372 pounds. Those, obviously, also qualified as position records.
The other 17 position records were: DE LaMark Armour (545 pound squat); MLB Jonathan Cornell (550 squat); CB Marshay Green (340 bench press); FB H.R. Greer (590 squat); S Fon Ingram (10-6 standing long jump); OT John Jerry (485 bench press); LG Rishaw Johnson (650 squat); DT Ted Laurent (450 bench press); DT Ted Laurent (340 power clean); CB Jeremy McGee (480 squat); RG Reid Neely (9-2 standing long jump); DS Preston Powers (370 bench press); DE Emmanuel Stephens (10-5 standing long jump); QB Billy Tapp (335 bench press); CBs Marcus Temple and Julian Whitehead (292 power clean); and OLB Patrick Trahan (10-5 1/2 standing long jump).
To earn the honor of being on the "Rebs of Steel" poster, players had to reach a high standard in six of seven "events" - squat, bench, clean, vertical jump, long jump, 5-10-5 drill and L drill.
"We have studied the standards we have set for those events and if a player makes six of seven, they will be above average at the NFL combine," Decker stated. "We had 14 players make the poster this year and five of those reached the standard in all seven events, which is very, very good."
Those 14 were: CB Cassius Vaughn, S Johnny Brown, S George Helow, WR Shay Hodge, RT John Jerry, PK Josh Shene, DE Emmanuel Stephens, WR Markeith Summers, QB Billy Tapp, and the five who were seven for seven, MLB Jonathan Cornell, CB Marshay Green, LG Rishaw Johnson, WR/TB Dexter McCluster and RG Reid Neely.
"I'm very proud of those guys. Those are exceptional results for someone in our offseason program," Decker added. "We also had an additional 11 players who got a t-shirt meaning they reached the standards in 5-of-7 events, which is also very good."
The Rebels start spring training Friday, March 27th, and they will enter the session prepared by a productive offseason.
The Rebs were not complacent, they gave great effort, they paid attention to detail and they finished.
In short, they heeded the advice and warnings of Nutt and Decker.
And it paid dividends in the offseason and will continue to pay off throughout spring training.
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