LINCOLN — Scott Frost was angry that morning. The angriest that many Nebraska players have seen their coach.
During their first spring practice, the Huskers couldn’t complete a mistake-free warmup. Some bumped into each other or turned the wrong way. Some didn’t keep up. Some had body language Frost didn’t appreciate.
Every time, the process started over.
“We did it, like, five times, then he called us up,” senior offensive lineman Jerald Foster said. “He was not happy about that, sent us back. Then we messed up two more times, and he called us up and he really got mad. We did it the right (way) that eighth time doing it. That was one of the hardest days ever.”
The dynamic warmup — or “stretch” as Frost and his staff call it — is a far cry from the static, stationary stretches employed under former coach Mike Riley. It begins with a slower portion, in which players go 10 yards by skipping, dipping, doing high knees and moving laterally. The length then extends to 20 yards with a similar combination of movements and sprints, all in a flat figure-eight pattern. During the portion of practice open to media Wednesday, the warmup ended with players racing to midfield and doing coordinated jumping jacks.
The entire sequence lasts 5 to 7 minutes. Frost picked it up at Oregon from the school’s longtime strength coach Jim Radcliffe, who has written books on plyometrics, and brought it to UCF.
Now the practice is in full swing for the Huskers, setting the tone for the fast-paced action of the day. It’s one symbol of a larger culture shift around North Stadium.
“Our guys have learned not to like the word ‘stretch,’ ” Frost said. “Stretch isn’t sitting on the ground and doing hurdler stretch anymore for us. Scientifically, the right way to get your body ready is active preparation.
“But really, stretch is hard here. They’re tired after stretch, but it gets their bodies ready without much time. It’s kind of a rite of passage, too, to be able to not just go through stretch but, like, really dominate stretch. It’s a mentality thing for us, as well as getting them right physical(ly).”
The idea is to rehearse skill, building on previous work. Hip movement is important. So is intensity, so much so that the end of the stretch should be difficult to distinguish from the start of the main training session.
“That warmup, man,” said 340-pound defensive lineman Damion Daniels. “That’s something else.”
Nebraska sophomore D-lineman Ben Stille said strength coach Zach Duval began teaching the method during the winter. At UCF, coaches didn’t introduce it until the first day of spring ball, and “they said it was just chaos; it was a mess.”
But the learning curve was still steep that first day in Lincoln, Stille added with a sheepish smile.
“I think we redid it probably three or four times,” Stille said. “At that point, you can’t feel your legs. It’s just really detail oriented and then physically pretty taxing. It’s even worse when you’ve got pads and stuff on. I remember (Frost) being pretty upset.”
The “stretch” is so important to coaches that they even featured it in their “Rise and Conquer” video series at UCF. Players said it simulates game conditions by forcing them to think when exhausted. It helped them take pride in that part of a workout for the first time.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” tight ends coach Sean Beckton said then. “But now that we’re doing it, I really, really like it. The philosophy behind it is to get everybody moving.”