“It’s been amazing. When we stepped in here in the beginning – and all the credit goes to the guys – they’ve had strength coach after strength coach, then I’m up there next and it’s like, ‘Okay, what does this guy have to teach us?’ They were really open to it, and they started to see the benefits of what was going on in the weight room.”
One of the quickest ways to achieve “buy-in” to any new regime is to begin to see results. That happened quickly under Hernandez.
“In the summer you started seeing them really buying into the benefits to their strength as well as what was happening to their conditioning. The next thing you know we’re headed into the season and at this point you can really tell that the guys really believe in what they have done, to take them into the season.”
“The credit goes to them. They showed up every day, they bought into it and they worked extremely hard at it.”
Hernandez was one of Larry Fedora’s final hires after taking the UNC job, named S&C coach on Feb. 2, 2012. Missing the month of January to get acquainted, Hernandez was playing catch up last year. This January, Hernandez and his staff were able to hit the ground running.
“Now they understand things like the tempo, the intensity, the flow, the expectations, the exercises, the rotations,” he said. “Now we do a tremendous amount of work in a short period of time.”
Once we started here back in January, we were even faster with our workouts, we were more efficient with our workouts, our flow, our leadership, our expectations – so it’s just snowballing, starting to get better in every phase, we’re on a great approach to where we’d eventually like to be.”
With senior leaders such as Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Reddick, and Sylvester Williams moving on, one of the first tasks that falls to the S&C staff is to discover new leaders.
“This is very important for us when we look at what Coach Fedora’s big plan is for football,” Hernandez said. “In the weight room, it’s one of our mottos, it’s up on the walls - ‘It all starts here.’ And everything starts here, from the work ethic, to the accountability, to the adaptation, coming challenges and pain and discomfort, and team unity – and most importantly, team leadership. So everything for us begins in the weight room.”
What types of players tend to emerge as leaders in the weight room? Hernandez had an interesting answer.
“It’s not necessarily the guys with the biggest benches or the biggest arms that end up being the most effective leaders,” Hernandez said. “It’s a combination of guys who can continue to manage pain and discomfort, who can push their groups through pain and discomfort, who can do all the little things that are involved in executing a drill correctly so that it doesn’t cost the group so we have to repeat it and continue to do the same thing over again – and get right the first time because they motivate, communicate, and hold their guys accountable.”
With defensive stalwarts like Reddick and Williams moving on, and with players like quarterback Bryn Renner returning to the offense, you’d expect to see more leadership on offense. Hernandez confirmed that is the case, but is optimistic that defensive leaders will emerge.
“We’ve seen with the offense, that from day one back in January, already we’ve seen some great leadership start to develop,” Hernandez said. “Guys primarily like (A.J.) Blue, who has really stepped into a great leadership role for that whole offense. James Hurst and Russell Bodine are doing a tremendous job with holding the guys accountable. Renner is doing an excellent job at keeping his guys more accountable and trying to get them more mature and understanding, and Blue has been a great motivator and encourager, so we see some great things on the offense right now that is really exciting because there are guys who have stepped up and are having some great results with expressing their leadership.”
Defensively, there’s some work to do.
“We lost two guys who were the anchors of not just the defense, but the team. When you’re looking at Kevin Reddick and you’re looking at Sylvester Williams, these guys weren’t just leaders for their position, or for the defense, these guys were team leaders in every aspect.”
There are some early signs that a few defensive players are beginning to assume the leadership mantle, at least in terms of specific position groups.
“I’ve been real happy with guys like Tim Jackson, what he’s trying to do with that defensive line, with guys like Kareem Martin and what he’s trying to do with that defensive line and with the defensive group as well,” Hernandez said.
“We’ve got some linebackers with (Nortkeithus) Otis and some young guys like Shakeel Rashad and Nathan Staub who are leaders by example, but they’ve got some big shoes to fill over there, and you definitely have some guys moving in the right direction.”
At defensive back: “We’re hoping that Jabari Price, he’s starting to get back in the mix from his surgery, and he’s starting to get more involved and you can tell that things are beginning to shape up a little bit better over on that side.”
The offense just seems more ahead of the game because they are much more established, but that’s why we’ve got this time, in January and February right now, we don’t have to play until August, so we expect these guys to step up and get this thing going.”
Check back tomorrow for Part II of this three part series …