Nov. 6, 2013
Strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell leads players through stretching exercises (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Nine games into the season and more than three months since the start of practice, Auburn players say they are just getting started. The late-season weariness they have experienced in previous seasons has been banished.
It’s all about what happens away from the cheering crowd, in the weight room under the watchful eyes of strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell and his staff. The work didn’t end with offseason and summer programs. It continues on.
“It’s a great feeling when guys are getting stronger and getting bigger when most guys usually fall off during the season,” senior defensive end Dee Ford said. “That is a huge plus. That is putting us beyond probably 85 percent of the league.”
Junior center Reese Dismukes echoes Ford’s assessment and his excitement.
“The strength staff and the training staff do a great job,” Dismukes said. “We’ve been lifting heavy all year and getting stronger in season. I think that has stood us as apart. Obviously, we’re not doing as much or as many reps, but we’ve done a good job of maintaining our strength.”
The No. 7 Tigers (8-1, 4-1), winners of five straight, play Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff on ESPN is set for 11 a.m.
Auburn players lift on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday most weeks, taking some Sundays after road games off. Russell told them that is the way it would be.
“I’ve been talking about that since spring ball,” Russell said. “We weren’t going to back up from an intensity standpoint. We were going to cut down the volume a little bit because of all the practicing they do, but we were still going to hit some heavy percentage and heavy weights.
“Why will you train hard all summer and all offseason and then go into what some people call maintenance mode? Well, there’s no such thing. You are either getting stronger or you are getting weaker. The guys have bought into it whole-heartedly and have been getting stronger throughout the season.”
It shows in the fourth quarter, where Auburn has outscored its opponents 64-30, when Auburn players aren’t tired, when they are pushing harder instead of looking for a break. And Russell watches proudly.
“Oh, yeah,” Russell said. “That’s the big thing we’ve talked about since we’ve been here, relentless effort.”
It takes only a look to see that tailback Tre Mason, closing in on his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, is bigger and stronger. He says he’s faster, too.
“We work hard,” Mason said. “We lift weights really heavy, and it’s paid off. Coach Russell has been doing his job and we’ve been following along. A lot has been different. His way of going about things is a lot different.”
There was a time when, after suffering through last season’s 3-9 record, that Ford thought about leaving and trying his luck in the NFL. But he says he believed even then better times were coming in a hurry.
“It’s very fun, and especially for me,” said Ford, who missed the first two games with said. “That’s the reason I came back. I just had a feeling, and God doesn’t make mistakes. I went with my gut feeling. I’ve already exceeded what I did last year. I’m pretty healthy now. I feel like in these next three games I’m going to make a lot of big plays. That’s all coming from just the atmosphere, me feeding off the energy of everybody else. I have a great training staff and great doctors. Everything is positive right now. That’s one of the reasons I came back.”
Auburn players, Ford says, have changed work habits and attitudes and a culture of winning on and off the field has returned to Auburn football.
“It was something we didn’t focus on last season enough as players,” Ford said. “We’ve harped on it this year, and it’s helped us in our play. It needed to come more from players how important in-season workouts are, and it just wasn’t happening like it needed to. It is now.”
Russell says he can see it, and he sees even better days ahead this season and beyond.
“We haven’t had any issues at all from a discipline standpoint,” Russell said. “I think they see all the hard work we did in the winter and summer paying off. I think that’s something they take pride in. I tell them all the time it is only going to get better.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: