It’s approaching 90 degrees on a sunny Tuesday afternoon as the Kansas State football team finishes its latest preseason practice, and everyone is eating watermelon.
This is a time for players to recharge after two hours of hard work and sweat. They are taking advantage. The Wildcats are all smiles as they chomp on their snacks and make the walk from their grass fields to their locker room on the other side of the K-State athletic complex.
They are tired, but they look like they just finished a sprint instead of a marathon.
That wasn’t always the case last year. In fact, higher energy levels after practice might be the most noticeable change at preseason camp with new coach Chris Klieman taking over for Bill Snyder.
“They are doing a better job of making sure we keep our bodies fresh,” senior receiver Dalton Schoen said. “Coach Snyder’s mentality was old school, rough and tough, we are going to keep grinding all the time. This team is a little different.”
Time will tell if a lighter conditioning workload will lead to better results this season, but it is certainly a welcome change for K-State players.
“Not running as much definitely helps the recovery part of things with your legs,” senior offensive lineman Nick Kaltmayer said. “Being out here every day, something that goes fast is your legs. By Day 2 or Day 3, you really start to feel it. That is one of the good parts about this year.”
Coaches still ask a great deal from players during practice and regularly scheduled workouts. And Chris Dawson is still their strength and conditioning coach. They spend lots of time in the weight room. Nothing has changed there.
Players actually say practices are more intense now than they used to be, but they don’t last quite as long.
Klieman urges them to get their conditioning in during every every two-hour practice window, but that’s it. Once practice ends, they are encouraged to stay off their feet.
“The plan we use as a program has kind of been proven,” offensive line coach Conor Riley said. “You have got to continue to push these guys every single day, but the way we are protecting ourselves on defense and the way we are staying up and staying off the ground, those are things that make sure we get to that first game healthy.”
In previous years, the end of practice didn’t mean the end of work for K-State players. That’s often when their most grueling conditioning work took place. It was time for them to run, and run hard. Just finishing wasn’t enough.
Distance varied on how they performed at practice that day. Sometimes it was a lot. Sometimes they got off easy. K-State quarterbacks coach Collin Klein, a former player under Snyder, says his old teammates still talk about the time they had to sprint 50 yards a whopping 36 times after one practice.
That strategy produced hard-nosed teams that fought to the bitter end of games and seasons. The Wildcats were usually strong finishers under Snyder, and that could be attributed to extra conditioning work. As other programs began to fade, the Wildcats surpassed them and won games late at least partially because they worked so hard in August.
But that could also be blamed for some recent slow starts, as the Wildcats have only begun nonconference play 3-0 once over the past six seasons. Some could argue players were fatigued by the end of preseason camp and unable to give 100 percent in Week 1.
Whatever the case, K-State is going in a new direction when it comes to conditioning this season.
“Some of that made us real tough and hardy,” Klein said. “I think I have seen some fresher legs in camp this year, which is a positive thing. There is an argument that could be made on both sides of the coin. Whatever you are doing you have to do it well, whether you are running or not running.”