Josh Kendall

Gamecocks ‘embracing’ what it takes to get stronger, faster

As South Carolina enters the second year of its strength and conditioning program under a new regime, the Gamecocks players are twice as far along as they were a year ago.

“But it was extremely low last year because the expectations weren’t built into their head,” said Jeff Dillman, South Carolina’s director of strength and conditioning. “If we were a three last year, we’re a six this year.”

That means there’s plenty of work to do in year two and beyond for Dillman and his staff. The Gamecocks are coming off a 6-7 season in head coach Will Muschamp’s first year and begin spring practice on Feb. 25.

Dillman’s marching orders from Muschamp between the end of the season and the start of spring practice are to add weight and strength to the players.

“Most people say it takes three years before you can see the result of a strength program. I try to do it instantly, but it won’t happen. The body has to adapt to what it’s doing,” Dillman said. “If I put a video on of our fourth quarter program that we’re going through right now and put on last year versus this year, where we finished at last year in the fourth quarter program, we started at above that this year because the kids know expectations.”

The Gamecocks broke up the time between the end of the regular season and spring practice into two segments. The first three weeks were focused exclusively on strength and size, and they have now cut back to three days a week lifting and added four days of running per week, with two days of speed work and two days of agility work each week.

“You learn a new system, they’re still hesitant, they’re fighting the system, they don’t trust it,” Dillman said. “Now, you have the trust of the kids, they understand it works so they are going to keep doing it.”

One of the clearest signs to Dillman that his team has embraced the new program is he no longer sees players grabbing their knees during workouts. That’s strictly forbidden in Dillman’s weight room.

“They are doing a better job of understanding how to control their body language through everything,” he said. “If you play me in a football game and I bend over in the fourth quarter and I’m grabbing my knees, sucking wind and you’re over there standing tall and not sucking wind, what advantage do you have psychologically on this guy?”

Dillman instructs his players to scream or smile and wiggle their fingers if they’re feeling short of breath.

“You never know where the breaking point is in a game,” Dillman said. “You have to keep hitting and hitting and hitting and hitting and don’t stop hitting. When you stop hitting, that next hit could have been the one that made them quit.”

Dillman constantly has to balance that desire to push his players to near their limit while also guarding against something like happened earlier this year at Oregon, where three players were hospitalized due to rhabdomyolysis following a strenuous workout by their new strength coach, Irele Oderine. Oderine was suspended for a month without pay.

“There is a fine line you are working between overworking and not overworking,” Dillman said. “The question I always ask myself is, ‘Will I put myself through this? Would I put my kids through this?’ If the answer is yes, I’m doing the right things. If they answer is no, I’m doing the wrong thing.”

Dillman and the school’s head athletic trainer, Clint Haggard, meet every day and at least one athletic trainer from Haggard’s department is on site at every Gamecocks workout.

Muschamp’s “word now is ‘embrace,’ ” Dillman said. “Embrace everything that we do, from meeting times to training to running, embrace.”