LINCOLN — Nebraska football players knew how long it had been between their last game of 2017 — a 56-14 loss to Iowa — and their first workout in 2018 with new strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval.
“Fifty-two days,” senior guard Jerald Foster said.
With that kind of layoff, Foster said, players figured those opening workouts would be tough. And they were. Two players went to the hospital with rhabdomyolysis. Others felt the burn.
“We all kept pushing, we kept working even though it was — it was really hard,” Foster said. “There were guys who just hadn’t worked out in awhile, so the workouts were hard. You couldn’t really walk too well. But going through the fire with anybody brings you closer. I would say it brought us at least back to the form we needed to be at. January was great for us. It put us in position for February, and it’s pushed on until now.”
Foster, a captain on the 2017 team, said the team is excited for spring practices to start. NU will have one orientation-style workout next Friday before beginning practice in earnest March 27.
A foundation for the Scott Frost era will be built. Foster hopes to do more than that, as do fellow seniors, he said. If the initial buy-in when former coach Mike Riley took over was a little iffy, that’s not the case with Frost.
“With all the seniors, we want to make it better right now,” Foster said. “We’ve all bought into this. We all really do care. We want to do something special in this next year.”
Frost wasn’t around the team much until the past month, after he had completed Nebraska’s 2018 recruiting class. Since Frost has been in North Stadium, Foster said, the former Husker quarterback has set a tone among the players.
“He tells you what he wants and he expects you to do it,” Foster said. “I can’t be mad at that. I love that trait in a coach — somebody who straight-shoots you, who believes you can do it. You can see the competitor in him.”
Ditto for Duval, Frost’s handpicked strength and conditioning coach. Frost quipped Wednesday night on the “Sports Nightly” radio show that Duval’s work had already turned the Huskers into an episode of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” weight-loss program.
Foster said Duval’s program was closer to that of James Dobson — head strength coach under former coach Bo Pelini — than NU’s most recent strength coach, Mark Philipp. Nebraska players are back to doing back squats, in which the bar sits on a player’s upper back, after three years of doing front squats, in which the bar sits on a lifter’s shoulders, under his chin.
Duval also prefers football-tailored lifts over Olympic lifts, which had been used under Philipp.
“We do hang clean — a clean where you’re not going to let go of the weight (between repetitions),” Foster said. “With the last staff, we did power cleans. You had boxes the weight would sit on. You’d clean it up and let it drop, get back under it and do it again and keep doing that. Or we’d do it from the floor. That was the Olympic lift. And we used to do snatches, where you’d pick it up and put it over your head.
“They weren’t bad lifts, but Coach Duval says we can take pieces from Olympic lifts. But we’re football players, and he believes football players have their own version they have to go after.”
Nebraska’s new spread offense, Foster said, will be faster than the system NU ran 2011-14 under then-coordinator Tim Beck, who also liked to push tempo and call plays without using a huddle.
“If you watched what they did at UCF last year,” Foster said, “you have to be in the best shape in your life if you want to do it.”