CORAL GABLES -- The last thing Al Golden said at the end of the 2011 season was that he wanted his team to get stronger.
Looks like that's really starting to happen for the Hurricanes.
Strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey, whose had the team since spring football ended April 14th, said Monday the Hurricanes have made drastic improvements in his weight room -- and credits Golden for a lot of it.
According to Swasey, UM currently has 36 players who are bench pressing 225 pounds (the NFL combine testing standard) 20 times and seven more who are doing it 30 times. A year ago, Swasey said, he only had 11 players on the entire roster who could produce 20 reps of 225 pounds. The goal, Swasey said, is for the team to eventually have 40 players who can do 20 reps of 225 and 10 who can achieve 30 reps by the time fall practice begins.
"All of us are shocked how strong we've gotten," said senior Ben Jones, one of the seven to achieve 30 reps. "Everybody is buying into the program now and believing in what coach is saying and are ready to just go for it. I wouldn't say it wasn't happening before. But it's just a new energy around here."
That new energy, Swasey said, has to do with the level of competition Golden has created with the off-season programs. Swasey the combination of the Fifth Quarter program (extra workouts), the competition to wear black jerseys (starters) and now having players get tested in what they would do at the NFL combine has created a year-round competition for starting jobs and kept the team hungry.
"I think everybody needs rewards and challenges," Swasey said. "I've been with four different head coaches... this reminds me more of how Butch [Davis] did it. With Butch we had the morning runs. Here, it's U tough... Competition and development -- that helps guys strive for things and challenges them."
Jones agreed. "Everybody cares a lot because they know all this means something," he said. "You have a chance to compete for a starting job. Everybody wants to go hard to reach the black shirt, go for the most on 225 [pounds], U tough and everything they can so they can stand out and say 'Coach I'm ready for this opportunity.'"
MORE NOTES FROM MONDAY
> So who are the seven players with more than 30 reps? Jones couldn't remember them all, but mentioned defensive tackles Darius Smith and Corey King as well as left tackle Malcolm Bunche and starting right guard Brandon Linder. Swasey said Smith leads the team with 36 reps. For the record, Memphis defensive lineman Dontari Poe had the most reps at the NFL combine in April with 44.
Sophomore middle linebacker Denzel Perryman had 23 reps according to Jones. Boston College's Luke Kuechly, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, put up 27 reps at the combine. Jones said a couple of defensive backs have broken the 20-rep mark -- safeties Andrew Swasey and Kacy Rodgers.
> Asked to pick his weight room freaks, Swasey mentioned Bunche and receiver Phillip Dorsett.
The sophomore out of St. Thomas Aquinas has gained 20 pounds since arriving at UM and is now 185 pounds. Perhaps more impressive is that he's taken the title of fastest man away from cornerback Brandon McGee. According to Swasey, Dorsett ran a 4.36 recently. McGee, who is up to 190 pounds, ran a 4.55. UM, though, won't officially test the 40 until later.
"Dorsett is kind of the freak," Swasey said. "He'll be a guy who will really surprise."
> Maybe it's just surprising to me, but right tackle Seantrel Henderson isn't among the big freaks in the Canes weight room. In fact, the 6-8, 332-pound junior is barely scraping by at 20 reps of 225 pounds. Henderson admits he's never been a big weight room guy. His long arms are partly responsible for his light lifting numbers. Last year Henderson said he lifted 225 pounds between 12 and 15 times.
"In high school I wasn't a big weight room guy," Henderson said. "But I feel like I've improved a lot."
As for why Henderson remains at right tackle and isn't competing for the left tackle job, well, we now have some clarity. "My left hip is kind of weaker than my right so I feel more comfortable kicking with my right [leg]," Henderson said. "So, I feel like when I get my strength back in my left hip I'll be versatile again. But until then, I feel comfortable at right [tackle]."
- MANNY NAVARRO