June 10, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- The wall hangings have been sitting in the back of Evan Simon’s car. There are a couple of muscle and anatomy posters and a picture of Camp Randall Stadium that Wisconsin’s football strength coach purchased at a mall. All have been earmarked for his office, along with the many books that have been taking up space in his basement that “my wife has been telling me daily I need to bring in.’’
The posters are pragmatic accessories -- “So when we’re talking to the players about certain things, they can see exactly what we’re talking about,’’ he said -- while the picture reinforces a “Home Sweet Home’’ idiom within the new weight room which has been built into the north end of the stadium and conforms with its sloped ceiling and support columns to the footprint of the student seating areas.
“I’m more of a spur of the moment-type coach where there’s not one particular slogan or thing that I really try to hold on to,’’ said Simon, whose one notable exception ‘’Today give everything you’ve got, what you keep you lose forever’’ is displayed prominently in the weight room. “That one I hold on to because I was exposed to that quote at a special time in my career when I was just getting started.
“I also think it makes sense to what we’re trying to accomplish that ties into ‘Win the Day.’’’
The Badgers have adopted the three-word mantra -- popularized nationally by former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now with the Philadelphia Eagles -- and the “Win the Day” command will appear on the back of T-shirts commemorating Monday’s start of the voluntary summer training phase. At the end of the semester, Simon had some parting words for the players to hold them over until this week.
“I told them to enjoy themselves and have fun with the three weeks they have away from campus,’’ said Simon, noting that they also had two discretionary weeks off while classes were finishing up. “I told them to be college students but at the same time I wanted them to come back prepared and ready to work knowing they’re really entering week six, not week one, when they return.’’
Simon then reminded them, “We’re training for a greater purpose.’’
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On Sunday night, Simon spoke more expansively to everyone about winning the day -- along with winning the moment -- and how it all translates to “striving for perfection’’ in their summer commitment and regimen as they transition into the fall and the 2013 season. “Every moment this summer we need to be the more mature team, not only in the Big Ten,’’ he said, “but the country.’’
Simon challenged the players to ask themselves, “Is your run technique the best it possibly could be with the instruction you’re getting? Was your effort the most you could give for that particular second and moment of activity? Were you pushing your teammate? Or were you worn down to where you couldn’t support your teammates and you were just trying to find a way to support yourself?’’
Another part of the process is integrating the true freshmen and junior college transfers into the group over the next few weeks. “The challenge is teaching them the way we work and what is expected of them,’’ Simon said. “We ask everyone to hustle around the weight room and we don’t let them sit down between sets. We’re integrating them into that type of work environment.’’
While acclimating the newcomers to their surroundings it helps from a guidance and leadership standpoint to have a large senior class, 23 strong, including two sixth-year seniors and 19 fifth-year seniors. “They’re great guys, first and foremost. I wish I had the ability to coach them longer,’’ said Simon, citing their personality, work ethic, perspective and “the togetherness they have as a unit.’’
In the next breath, Simon admitted, “It’s definitely gratifying to be on the same page with the seniors and upperclassmen. They had one person (Ben Herbert) and one system for so long and that was a great system. They were hesitant at first, but I think once they got to know my personality, once they got to see that they could release their true personalities and not have to hold back or act a certain way or a different way because someone was new in front of them, it made things go much smoother.’’
Simon began introducing some different points of emphasis to the returning players during winter conditioning. “I would say probably the biggest difference had nothing to do with lifting, it had to do with us asking certain demands of them,’’ he said. “If we’re comparing their development to a house, I still think strength is the foundation. That foundation needs to be strong, but it’s only so big.’’
In this context, he pointed out that the blue print featured the construction of different levels in addition to the base or foundation. “From the standpoint of what we do, the X’s and O’s of our strength program, we’re not trying to make a foundation three levels high,’’ he said. “We’re trying to build the house the right by working on flexibility so they have strength in the areas they need it, but not rob from Peter to pay Paul in all the areas that need to be developed as a football player.’’
The orientation extended through spring ball. “As far as muscular strains and sprains, we had no strains that kept an athlete from practicing,’’ said Simon, crediting a “hand-in-hand’’ working relationship with trainers and sports medicine staff for treatment and recovery. “The program did a good job of helping to sustain shoulder health and improve glutes and hamstring health. Based on the way coach (Gary) Andersen structured practices, our piece of the pie was accomplished that way.’’
Andersen and his coaching staff have limited exposure to the players during the summer. As a result, he has often talked about the confidence that he has in “turning over the keys” to Simon. In turn, Simon said, “I know what type of car that he expects to get back on Day One of fall camp.’’
Furthermore, he noted, “I’m familiar with his car from the standpoint of I know his personality; he knows mine. I know what he expects to get out of this team. I know what he expects from different position groups and different classes, from seniors to freshmen. I feel like I’ve been around coach Andersen long enough to where he gives me freedom to try new things. That trust is invaluable.’’
So what does Simon want to get accomplished during the summer? “I would say my biggest objective for the guys is to become closer as a team through the challenges and the workouts that we put them through,’’ he said, emphasizing the accountability components that will be demanded of them each step of the way, along with the completion of the “Four Quarter Drill.’’
Accenting quick burst, fast-twitch activity, it essentially consists of multiple changes of direction or short sprint drills with a brief rest in-between to simulate a game situation. Each quarter will be played out, first to fourth, with the equivalent of 10 consecutive plays or sprints to a quarter. “During the fourth quarter, we have a sled that the guys loved to hate long before I go here,’’ Simon said with understandable relish. “But I think they found a new hatred for it -- it’s called the Prowler sled.’’
The players must complete 10 sprints of 20 yards each with the Prowler.
“If we can get to the last week of our summer (conditioning) right before fall camp,’’ Simon said, “and everyone can pass the Four Quarter Drill -- running hard, standing tall and supporting their teammates -- then I’ll know that they are ready to go and play and control their own fate every time they take the field … then I’ll know they’re ready to hit camp and whatever challenges come their way.’’