Bigger, stronger, faster.
That’s the credo for college football players during the offseason. Reaching those three highly coveted goals has become extremely challenging during the coronavirus pandemic.
Jimmy Carson, in his first year as University of New Mexico’s director of athletic performance, said to the best of his knowledge there are only five football players (out of 85) who have access to weights. Working out with weights is what’s needed for an optimum workout, Carson said.
The UNM football players are spread all over different states, including, California, Texas, Utah and New Mexico, and are doing their best to stay in shape since stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March.
Per NCAA rules, Carson is not permitted to direct workouts (no video sessions, in other words) or even ask if they have been training. UNM head coach Danny Gonzales and the position coaches continually encourage the players to stay in shape.
The Lobos are scheduled to play Idaho State Aug. 29 at Dreamstyle Stadium to start the season. Their eighth and final spring practice was on March 13.
During the time away and with many lacking access to weights, the Lobos might not be bigger and stronger before the season begins.
“It’s a slight concern,” Carson said. “I think the NCAA is doing a good job of preparation. I’ve heard of 4-, 6- and 8-week return plans. I don’t really like the 4-week plan. I don’t think that’s enough time. But the other ones, if we do it smart, we still have enough time to get the athletes stronger.”
Carson believes the greater concern will be dealing with the new regulations when the football players return to campus. The NCAA this week voted to lift the moratorium for on-campus workouts, meaning football and basketball student-athletes can begin voluntary workouts at UNM June 1 dependent on federal, state and city public health orders.
UNM has not said when they will clear athletes to return to UNM and use of its facilities. Carson said he is a part of a group that is devising protocol for student-athletes working out and training when they do.
“I’m not that worried even if it does happen fast and they come back,” Carson said. “With all the social distancing and guys traveling and to quarantine there’s only going to be a handful of guys who can train from day one. It will be more of slowly easing in players.”
Carson said when the players return, it will be as if they’re starting over with his program. Players had five weeks off after the end of the 2019 season before he started working with them.
The Lobos were responding well to the workouts, said Carson, who was implementing training that increased flexibility.
“It’s a little disappointing,” said Carson, 30, who is in his first year as a director and in his eighth season of college football, the last two years at Arizona State. “I’m not getting to run my full program. But at the same time I think this is a good opportunity for me. I’m having to think differently. This is challenging me as a coach. I’ve got to keep figuring out ways to adapt and overcome. It’s good and it’s bad. If I can survive this in my first year, I think we’ll be good for the next years coming.”
Early on during the stay-at-home order for the majority of the nation, Carson’s programs had players working with their own body weight. That doesn’t build strength, he said.
UNM then mailed resistance bands to the players to improve the workouts.
Gonzales is in his first year as a head coach, but he has become known for his rigorous workouts and practices at Arizona State as defensive coordinator and through the spring at UNM. His coaching style is similar to that of Rocky Long, who is also known to push players to their limits and beyond.
“If this was my third year on the job, I would have zero concern about what our guys were doing because we would have set the culture, we would know who they are,” Gonzales said. “We were both in the phase of learning about each other. I think we have a bunch of great guys. I think we have a bunch of high character guys.”
Gonzales continually reminds the players to stay on top of their workouts. He also tells them that he’ll know who has been working out when they return.
“There’s no hiding,” Gonzales said. “We’ll find out the true character of our team. It will give us a gauge of how much we’ll need to do. We’ll know when we get that magic date to come back.”
UNM senior wide receiver Jordan Kress says he’ll be ready. He has been in Loveland, Colorado, where he does have access to weights. He also has a personal trainer, who has a private gym, where Kress has been building strength.
Kress, who turned 22 on Thursday, led the Lobos in receiving yards (530), touchdowns (6) and catches (28) last season. He knows this is a crucial year, since he hopes to play professionally.
Kress believes his teammates have been stepping up to the challenge. Players keep each other accountable while on Zoom calls, he said.
“You always have to wake up every day with a goal,” Kress said. “You have to process that goal and you gotta go get it. … Sometimes it sucks but it’s going to pay out.
“I’m hoping we can get (back to UNM) ASAP. I feel like I’ve already had summer break. I’ve been away for so long. It would be nice to get back in there with the guys. Hopefully pretty soon.”