Coming off the 2-10 season, one area earmarked for improvement was the team’s overall strength. Jeff Pitman, who took over the Colorado strength program last May, likened the situation to Dan Hawkins’ first season at Boise State in 2001.
Hawkins took over a program coming off two consecutive 10-win seasons, two Big West Championships and two bowl victories. Boise State went a respectable 8-4 in Hawkins’ first year, but failed to make a bowl game, and didn’t win the conference title.
That offseason, Hawkins turned Pitman loose on the Boise players with orders to deliver a stronger, tougher group. Pitman had similar orders this offseason.
“We approached it very similar to how we did that offseason (in 2001),” Pitman said. “I got after them, no holds barred. I explained to them exactly what was expected of them, and if they didn’t do it on a day-to-day basis, I was sure to tell them they weren’t meeting expectations. We got after it pretty good.”
Junior safety Ryan Walters participated in his fourth winter conditioning regimen. He confirmed it’s been a more challenging regimen this go around.
“It’s been rough,” Walters said.
But it’s paid off, he added.
“Everybody’s numbers are going up,” he said.
Along with weightlifting, the team has run at least twice a week. Early morning runs were conducted in Balch Fieldhouse and afternoon runs on the practice field when weather permitted.
Since Pitman arrived, he’s changed the strength program's emphasis to a more Olympic style of weightlifting than what his predecessor Greg Finnegan taught. That means heavier lifts, and more focus on lower body strength.
In particular, Pitman has worked to improve the team’s power clean lifts.
“It helps a lot with your explosion,” Walters said about the power clean. “You’ve got to get the bar from the ground to your chest in one explosive movement. You can translate that onto the football field.”
Walters — who’s always been good in the weight room — said his strength numbers have improved this winter.
“This is the most explosive and strongest I’ve ever felt,” he said. “I’m happy with the way things are going right now. (Coach Pitman) has given me that spark to do even better.”
Walters power cleaned 300 pounds this week. A year ago this time, Colorado had fewer than 15 players power clean at least 300 pounds. In comparison, 49 players on the 2005 Boise State team, under Pitman’s watch, power cleaned 300 or more.
Pitman’s goal for the Buffs this week was that 40 players would reach that benchmark. They fell just short — 38 performed the feat — but Pitman said he’s been pleased with the players’ efforts the past two months.
“We didn’t hit (the goal), but that’s pretty high numbers from where we were at. I’m pretty happy about that,” he said.
Just as importantly, Pitman said he’s seen a shift in attitude in the weight room this winter from last summer and fall.
“They’re finally figuring out how to compete a little bit in here,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to what’s transpired during “max week” this week. The players have measured their best in a handful of categories the past several days. To make it work logistically, they were broken into four different groups, and assigned different times to come in and do their lifts. Players are pulling for each other.
“As the week has progressed, a lot of guys are showing up when they’re not lifting and encouraging the other guys,” Pitman said. “They’re getting excited about it, asking me a lot of questions like “Is this a good lift?, is this point total good?”
Pitman said the senior class has been working hard, and also noted a lot of the members of last year’s freshman class are among the strongest players, which bodes well for the future.
“I’ve been happy with the guys,” he said. “In a year or two we’ll be right where I want to be, but I think we’re definitely closing the gap.”
It takes a lot more than physical strength to win football games. It's just part of the puzzle. But following the tough offseason in the wake of the 2001 season in Boise, Hawkins' teams averaged 12 wins and didn't lose a conference game the next three years.
No one's predicting a 12-win season in Boulder. But Pitman didn't hesitate to point to this fall.
"I feel a lot better about this season than I did going into last fall, that’s for sure," he said. "I'm pretty excited about rolling into Invesco (for CU's first game of the season vs. CSU). We'll be a little bit more prepared on that deal."
Below are some of the top achievements in some of the categories the players tested in this week:
Hugh Charles: 374
Nate Solder: 352
Pitman: “Our average went up at least an inch or inch-and-a-half.”
Patrick Williams: 39.5
Terrence Wheatley: 39
Pitman: “We had five guys over 400, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But for the way we train, that’s pretty decent. We put a lot of emphasis in our legs, more so than we do in our upper bodies.”
Erick Faatagi: 430
Hugh Charles: 420
Brandon Nicolas: 426
Jason Brace: 401
Michael Sipili: 391
Nate Solder: 371
Pitman: “They do a good job on squats. They’ve always been good at that one.”
Hugh Charles: 635
Terrence Wheatley: 615
Jake Behrens: 600
Brandon Nicolas: 600