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Michigan State football and Jason Novak looking to make up ground in the weight room

March 8, 2021
<p>MSU football&#x27;s head strength and conditioning coach, Jason Novak, leads a workout during the program&#x27;s winter off-season weight lifting program. </p>

MSU football's head strength and conditioning coach, Jason Novak, leads a workout during the program's winter off-season weight lifting program.

Photo by Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications | The State News

MSU football head coach Mel Tucker wants to get bigger, faster and stronger.

The program's lead strength and conditioning coach, Jason Novak, is helping do just that in leading an effort to slowly establishing the foundation of the football team.

If you ask anyone, getting back to the level of football Michigan State was once at will begin in the weight room, and they’re beginning to establish the foundations of the program this spring for the first time since the new staff arrived in East Lansing.

“That's eating that elephant,” Novak said. “Everybody's in a hurry, but you have time to build it the right way to not have to take those steps back down a month or two down the road because something went wrong. We go a little slower, and we'll get where we need to be without those step-backs.”

It starts with tearing down and building back up their athlete's size and athleticism. It's about creating a new standard for a football program.

The Spartans began the first of two phases of their winter conditioning program back in January, where the team worked out four times a week with just the strength and conditioning staff where they look to “knock the rust off” for the players as they go into the more intensive second phase where workouts are more individualized for position groups, and the rest of the coaching staff comes in to assist in those workouts. For Novak, it’s a sigh of relief to finally be able to get a full off-season in with the athletes after the pandemic put an end to workouts before they even started last spring.

“I was talking with Coach Tucker last week, we had our first stations workout out on the field, and as we started the stations, I walked by him and said, ‘Coach, it's amazing, it only took us a year to get the first one done,’” Novak said in a virtual press conference Tuesday. “It really is that because it's almost a year to the day. It does feel like you're starting over because we've never gone through an off-season program with our team.”

During the last off-season, Novak was still impressed with the innovativeness and commitment of his athletes to stay in shape throughout the early days of the pandemic.

“It was more so a demonstration by the players here of how important this is to them,” Novak said. “They're finding a way to get things done, they're being creative, they're not shutting it down and they were trying to keep themselves in shape, mentally and physically and otherwise. I was like, ‘Dude these guys, this is important to them.’  I couldn't wait to get back with them because I was like look at what they're doing. I was like this means something.”

Now with the players back in the weight room, the strength and conditioning staff can use all the resources they have and not the milk jugs or cement bricks on broomsticks that players had to use off-season due to a lack of equipment at home.

One of those tools is the EliteForm System, an electronic system where coaches can track what athletes are lifting, how fast they’re going, at what velocity and much more.

"This is instant feedback for them to say, ‘Holy smokes, both reps felt the same but one was significantly different,’” Novak said. “It's feedback to show them starting strength, the suddenness and the intent with which you left. Now with that becomes the competition component. If I am training five racks down from somebody else and one of my teammates hits a number that's the best in the room, everything's gonna light up gold. His name's now on every screen of, ‘Hey this is the guy to chase in the room, he's the top dog.’ Now everybody knows, ‘Man there's somebody we're chasing because the record was just set.”

That motivation from that system along with the ability to evaluate each workout is incredibly helpful as Novak attempts to establish a mindset of having intent for each lift you partake in.

“What we're chasing now is teaching them the intent that we're supposed to live within here and football is a sudden sport, it happens now,” Novak said. “That's what we're trying to develop in the weight room now is when you decide to drive the bar or pick something up or power-clean, snatch or jump, it has to be sudden and the intent behind it has to be explosive. That's been the focus of this past five and a half weeks of the intent that we're lifting with and that we're training with.”


For early enrollees like freshman tight end Kameron Allen, even the first phase hasn’t been easy, especially not knowing what to expect, but he knows how much it will pay off.

“Honestly, the first day was pretty tough,” Allen said in January. “I really didn't know what to expect just jumping into it right from high school workouts. It was just really fast-paced and it kind of threw me off guard, but coming from Texas and my school, we work out seven o'clock in the morning we're going full whatever we can, full intensity. It really wasn't a problem to me jumping into workouts like that.”

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As the snow begins to melt and March Madness heats up East Lansing, it means that football once again is getting ready to become a focus soon as next season approaches fast. Tucker as of now is excited about the direction his program is headed.

“Our team is working hard right now in our conditioning program with Coach Novak and his staff, where we're looking to gain ground this year and it starts in the weight room,” Tucker said in January. ”I believe that your team is built in the weight room. That competitiveness, the grit, determination, the strain, the toughness, mental and physical, burst, explosion, bigger, faster, stronger, camaraderie, team chemistry, all that starts in the weight room. That's where we are in terms of our program, strength and conditioning, running and lifting, it's in full swing, I'm very impressed with what we're doing so far in the weight room.”


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