Savage changes offseason workouts and UF players ‘put the gas pedal down’

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Florida strength coach Nick Savage talks with Trevon Grimes (8) and Kadarius Toney (4) during a spring practice. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent

All things are difficult before they become easy — even Nick Savage’s workouts.

Florida’s director of football strength and conditioning “shocked the system” with his first offseason in early 2018, transforming the physique of several players. Savage put the Gators through another grueling regime over the past two months.

“It was tough, but guys got through it,” wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “It’s just work at the end of the day.”

The work was more strenuous and came with higher expectations in 2019. However, the team’s readiness for Savage’s program paled in comparison to last year.

“Night and day,” Savage said. “It was still a grind. Definitely able to push the envelope and go harder this year.”

The purpose of Savage’s first offseason was to make the players uncomfortable. When they arrived on Day 1, a sign had been placed outside of the weight room with new rules: no cellphones, no eating, no sitting down, no yawning.

And from that moment on, Savage’s standards served as a wake-up call for the Gators.

“We did a lot more disciplinary stuff,” Hammond said. “He had to test us to see what kind of shape we were in and get guys prepared for the workouts we were going to do throughout that first offseason.”

Florida’s introduction to Savage was a 2.7-mile campus run with four workout stations (abs, push-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats). The players weren’t allowed to go home until the entire team finished. Everybody eventually made it.

“Barely,” Hammond said.

This year’s offseason program didn’t feature that workout on the first day. Hammond said Savage started with football training rather than conditioning.

“He knows guys are more in shape now, so we didn’t have to do the campus run,” Hammond said. “First day back for workouts, guys were excited to go. You could just tell it was a different energy.”

The team still had to run, but Savage opted for stadiums instead. Good thing the mid-year enrollees didn’t have to cover the whole campus.

“I felt bad for a couple of the freshmen on the first stadium run we had,” linebacker David Reese said. “A couple freshmen died on that. I felt bad. But they made it through, most of them.”

Savage’s hardest workout was once again the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” on Feb. 14. Reese vowed that the Gators outworked every team in the country that day. Savage referred to the workout by a different name this year.

“Celebration,” Savage said, “Valentine’s Day Celebration. But it was good. Same mindset as we go into it.

“No matter what’s in front of you, who’s in front of you, where we’re at, we’re going to go attack and go win.”

The team took that mentality into the V-Day “celebration” and responded much better than in 2018. The workout had not changed from the year before, so the returning players were ready for it.

“Valentine’s Day was still the toughest day, but guys attacked it because they knew what to expect,” Hammond said. “Last year, guys were kind of timid and scared to see what it was going to be like.

“We had only heard stories about it. This time around, we were just telling the freshmen, ‘You better be ready.’ It was the same workout.”

Savage’s overall program was not the same in Year 2. Other workouts intensified, max-out limits increased and players raised the bar — not just on bench press.

“The expectations are higher,” Reese said. “We threw more weight on the bar. Naturally, as a team, we got stronger like we’re supposed to.

“Coach Savage just cranked up the intensity. When a guy has that much passion, it makes you want to work harder for him.”

Savage said players were willing to buy in last year, but had not been pushed to their limits before. With a year under his belt, he has figured out the key to every kid and how to motivate them.

“We know all these guys,” Savage said. “Know what makes them tick, what buttons to push, their physical needs, their mental capacity. All those little things add up to their success, so knowing them has allowed us to push harder.

“We were able to push harder and turn percentages, reps, schemes, all those things. … Last year it took us a while to build into the true workouts. This year from the get-go we were able to put the gas pedal down.”

Florida coach Dan Mullen wouldn’t want it any other way. UF made significant strides last year in the weight room and on the field, but Mullen said the players had to work harder and do more this offseason in order to make a jump in 2019.

That began with Savage and his strength staff.

“They do a great job,” Mullen said. “To see some of the gains we’ve made, just physically. Hopefully we’ve made some good physical gains during the offseason program.

“They develop them physically and mentally and for their health. Not just to get bigger, faster and stronger, but also for health purposes and for getting them stability.”

Savage lives up to his last name, but he said safety is always the top priority. Former Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair tragically died last summer from a heatstroke during an offseason workout, which led to the firing of Terrapins coach and former UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

Savage made sure to educate himself on what went wrong at Maryland.

“We have different modalities,” he said. “It’s a full program-wide job that we have to do. We use technology, we rely heavily on the medical staff. There’s no push back. We’re all in this together. At the end of the day, safety is our No. 1 concern.”

Savage has his handprints all over this team, from the quarterbacks to the defensive backs. Star cornerback Marco Wilson hasn’t played football in six months (ACL), but looks absolutely jacked thanks to Savage.

“His program is crazy,” Wilson said, “so it’s going to get everyone right.”

Quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Emory Jones have both bulked up, with Florida’s incumbent starter up to 245 pounds. Franks said he played 20 pounds lighter last season.

“Coach Savage, that’s my boy. I’m a big fan,” Franks said. “What he does just helps me be more confident running the ball, being able to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball taking hits.

“I love how he does his program. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. But when he can be your friend, he can also get on to you. That’s the type of coach I’ve always liked. Ultimately, it makes you a better player.”

14 COMMENTS

  1. “Naturally, as a team, we got stronger like we’re supposed to.” — David Reese. A stronger football team is the foundation of a healthier and better football team.

    Give Coach Savage a BIG raise! He’s one assistant the Gators can’t afford to lose!!!

  2. Zach always enjoy reading your articles. Thank you for the story. Physical Fitness shouldn’t be an issue. Part of his job is mental fitness and it looks like he has the feel for each player. Coaching has them now and it appears the job Savage has done is showing in practice. Now they need to gel as a team. That was happening all year last season and kicked in after Mizzou. Keep that momentum and good things are going to happen. GO GAOTORS.. BRING ON THE CHOMP!!

    • Roger that, 65……”gel as a team”. As you well know, that’s where the magic really is — and the leaders will begin to emerge. I think you probably caught the same thing I did, ie, running as a team. It’s what every good 1SG has known since the beginning of time; that part of PT is less about the physical and more about the mental. Goes directly to unit cohesion, teamwork, and yes……gelling. BOTC!

  3. Articles like this make me worry less and less about replacing the starters on the o-line. I believe that Savage will have several of the big boys physically ready to compete with the best of them. From there, Mullen and Hevesy will be able to mold that physicality into a formidable and durable offensive line. Which in turn will allow our skill guys to make plays and our dominant defense plenty of time to rest between turnovers and ‘3 and outs’. August 24th can’t get here soon enough.

  4. It’s simply amazing how much more positive energy there is in this program after just one year with CDM and crew. Everyone’s comments are strikingly different (in a good way of course) now compared to when captain PB&J and Co. were running the show. There even different from before last season when everyone was cautiously optimistic. Everyone in the program (players, coaches and fans) seems to have this positive electricity in them that I haven’t seen or felt since 2009.

    Man what a difference one year makes! Thanks Coach!!!!

    • Dallas after years of hope being dashed with underwhelming results I think the fan base was “cautiously optimistic” because of the possibility of history repeating itself. But there is a strong difference in the three hires. The first two were still cutting their teeth and not ready for the stage that is GAOTOR NATION. It would take a special coach to take on FL as a first time HC. A lot of moving parts. Coming from a small school as HC isn’t a bad thing but the standards and expectations and coaching abilities may not meet our standards. The first two fall into one or all of those statements. The last hire. Was here when we were at our peak (second peak) and knows what is expected here and was part (I think now evident a large part) of our rise to two NC’s. He left and cut his teeth in a division that is ruthless on the schools not AL, LSU, and sometimes Aub that now has A&M in the mix. His program did a great job there keeping them honest and knowing they could never take a game off in playing M ST. Here’s one last thing I have been thinking of about our new HC (notice I haven’t used any names but I think all know who falls where) we may have some off seasons and we will lose some games. I don’t think we will be scratching our heads wondering why as we knew we had the talent to win and didn’t/couldn’t. If we are outplayed they coaches/players/fans will know why and what has to be worked on to not let it happen again. We have coaches that are great, leaders and teachers. We may have some teeth cutting to go through as a team but our coaches have already been through that and are developing the team into their team. Can season get here already. BRING ON THE CHOMP!!!!🐊🐊🐊🐊🐊 🐊=one month