Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has earned plenty of media attention for his offseason weight loss, and rightfully so – the senior dropped over 30 pounds since his first meeting with Fedora (for more details, click here).
However, the slimming of the collective offensive line is quite possibly the top storyline thus far of preseason camp. It wasn't just one player that ramped up his cardio while cutting back on calories; it was by and large the entire position group.
Five different offensive linemen dropped 10 pounds or more during the 100-plus day stretch between the end of spring ball and the end of the second summer session. Senior right guard Travis Bond, who has lost nearly 40 pounds since last season, weighed in at 329 following the summer workouts. Junior guard David Collins sliced 23 pounds of his frame to check in at 302, while red-shirt freshman guard Landon Turner trimmed 19 pounds.
Senior left guard Jonathan Cooper, who dropped 10 pounds over the summer but gained a few pounds back to report at 300 pounds on Friday, pointed to the frenetic reality of Fedora's offense as the instigator for his unit's conditioning barrage.
"In spring ball, we were out of shape, we were kind of big and sluggish," Cooper said. "We were in shape to play pro-style football, but we weren't in good enough shape to run double the amount of plays and to be under rapid fire and understand your job."
Junior left tackle James Hurst is one of the exceptions along the line that needed to gain weight over the summer. The Plainfield, Ind. native lost 10 pounds between the end of last season and spring ball, but spent the summer adding those pounds back on. Even so, conditioning was at the forefront of his approach.
"Everyone knows that we're going to play at a higher pace, and to play at a higher pace, you have to be in better shape," Hurst said. "A lot of the offensive linemen were struggling with weight problems and obviously we addressed that early. I think that's going to pay off and I know a lot of the guys are really happy with where they are right now."
Fedora praised his offensive line's weight management work during his press conference on Saturday, singling out Bond for losing a "tremendous amount of weight" and noting that every player that was told to lose weight did so.
"I don't know if any of you have tried to lose weight, but you've got to decide that you're going to do it," Fedora told a packed media room. "It can't be just because Coach Kap or Coach Adams is saying, ‘Hey, you need to lose weight.' Because if they don't decide to do it, then they're not going to lose weight. And so that just tells me how much more they've bought in."
Quarterback Bryn Renner joined Cooper, Hurst and Williams in crediting strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez and his staff with getting the team in better shape. Cooper offered some insight into Hernandez's philosophy of challenging players and holding them responsible for their own results.
"I feel like it was approaching players as men and then holding them accountable, so giving them the chance and telling them, ‘These are my expectations, I want you to meet this goal and I trust in you to handle it. But once I see that you can't, that's when I'll step in and take the measures needed,'" Cooper said.
Offensive linemen routinely hang out together and form brotherly bonds, which allowed this Tar Heel group to unite in this strength and conditioning blitz by keeping an eye on one another.
Cooper remembers peppering Turner with questions throughout the day – "'Did you get your extra cardio? Are you eating right?" – to make sure the freshman stayed on track. The senior guard recalled visiting Turner's residence and upon watching the rookie pull out a snack, he asked, "Do you really need that?"
The entire line corps was accepting of each others' constructive criticism, and whenever a player would meet a increment of his weight goal, his teammates would offer praise and encouragement.
Conditioning clearly played a significant role during the summer workouts, but Hernandez is not one just to have his players run, run and run some more. The Tar Heels aren't just lifting; they're lifting hard.
Seven offensive linemen met the 225-pound NFL bench press benchmark with 20 or more repetitions, led by sophomore center Russell Bodine's 38.
As for personal accolades, Cooper's S&C numbers are difficult to fathom for a man measuring 6-foot-3, 300 pounds. The Wilmington, N.C. native carries a 10.3 body fat percentage, benches 425 pounds, squats 585 pounds and power cleans 350 pounds.
Bodine (18.3 BF%) also benches 425 pounds in addition to squatting 545 pounds, while Hurst (18.5 BF%) squats 565 pounds. Six other linemen squat 500 pounds or more, while 11 boast body fat percentages below 20, including strong numbers by senior right tackle Brennan Williams (14.1) and red-shirt freshman Jarrod James (15.8).
Speaking of that 2011 rookie class, all three members – Turner, James and Kiaro Holts – accomplished their weight goals for the summer. While Turner was losing weight, James added close to 20 pounds and Holts tacked on eight.
The 2012 class won't be given much opportunity to stray from the line's new weight room approach as three starters have each claimed a rookie to mentor – Cooper (Caleb Peterson), Hurst (Jon Heck) and Bond (J.J. Patterson).
The offensive line's hard work over the summer garnered strong evaluations from Hernandez and his staff. On the commitment level chart, only one scholarship player was graded below compliant, while nine were tagged committed or better. Cooper, Hurst and James earned the top honor – compelled.
All that's left for North Carolina's offensive line is to carry their production in the weight room over to the football field this fall.
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