Q&A Part 1: Yancy McKnight on JUCO’s, Jensen & development

As we do each and every year, recently sat down with Iowa State football’s strength and conditioning coach, Yancy McKnight. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what happens within the trenches of a college football program. In today’s portion of the interview, I ask McKnight about progress he has seen due to Iowa State’s new facility. How will he approach junior-college prospects this summer? Plus, notes on Brandon Jensen as well. 

CF: The last time I was in here you guys had just opened the new weight room. I’m curious to get a progress report. What has the last year been like compared to the year’s prior from a strength and conditioning standpoint?

YMI think that the room is what it is. The thing you see is that you are trying to improve the quality of life for your players and efficiency and things like that. That’s the one thing that we see a much better improvement with. In the old weight room, you had facility and space limitations with what you could do in that room. You might have had to have a lift group in the morning during the summer for an example or in the winter and then have to bring guys back throughout the day. At times, that’s not the best thing for some of the players and athletes and their day. It’s not super efficient. I think that’s probably the number one thing we’ve seen is just efficiency with their time. They don’t have much time as it is with practice and academics and all of the stuff going on with their lives. When we put that room together, that was the number one thing – to be able to handle large amounts of groups if we needed to – and then being cognizant of their time. With the rules that you have to say within while being in compliance with the NCAA, you only have so much time.

Physically, we are doing what we were doing before. We’ve got some new tools in the toolbox that we didn’t have in the other room because of space and budget or whatever but from that standpoint, not a lot has changed philosophically. We still do what we do. We set our room up to our philosophy. Ultimately it is about doing things that help you on the football field by position and things like that. The number one thing is that we just need more efficiency with our guys, in and out of workouts and utilizing time better.

CF: One of the big stories going into the fall is the fact that you have three JUCO defensive linemen coming in. I know it is always a process getting those summer guys ready for the fall. Being that the D-line is such a critical position for you guys, how will you attack those guys from the day they get on campus?

YM: That will depend on them. Just like any newcomer who comes into the program, what have they done since they signed? Have they sat on their rear-end for five months? That’s going to be on them. We went them a packet. We send them a workout. We send them all of the DVD’s and stuff like that – the instructional videos. It’s a 16-week long process to get them to June, when they get here. If they haven’t done anything in the past, most junior college guys who have gotten here in the summer, percentage wise most of them have redshirted in the past. You can go back and look it up. If they were here in the winter time, they haven’t. Looking at that, that has always been the case so we will see. If they come in in good physical condition, the pace and the rate is faster. If they are not, then they are that much farther behind. That will all be on them. Hopefully they show up and did what they were supposed to do.

CF: How quickly can you tell if a guy has been following the program?

YM: You can tell on the first day. You can tell right off the bat. We evaluate them and test them the first day that they get here. You can tell in the warm-up if they have done anything. We have seen in the past where high school and JC guys, you can tell that they hadn’t done anything since they got done playing football.

CF: I’m curious about Brandon Jensen. You had him for four years. He missed out on the winter and spring. He’s apparently still been running but not with you. How do you tackle that unique situation? 

YM: We met last week and talked about it a little bit. Physically, he is 285 pounds right now. He’s still in pretty good shape. It’s not like he has lost everything. He’s a big-boned and physical kid. To be honest with you, our players right now are in a four-week post-spring ball cycle that doesn’t require for them to do any running at all. In the last two weeks, they start doing light conditioning into the summer. Then they have some three day a week lifting programs. Really, for him to be joining us – timing wise – it probably worked out as well is it could have in this sort of a situation. He is right in there with these guys. They are all coming off of spring ball. Some of them are beat up. They need a little bit less intense workouts at this time of year post-spring ball going into the summer. They just need some stuff to keep them moving and lifting and get them feeling a little better. As crazy as it sounds, if you were to tell me that a guy was going to re-join the team, it would be better with him showing up now than on May 19 when we start our summer program. He was concerned that he hadn’t been in the thick of things but I told him the same thing. Our players have been in spring ball for six weeks really. They haven’t been in winter offseason for six weeks. They are coming into what we call “spring 2 development,” which is a lower intensity time, so it works out well for him. He isn’t being thrown right into the fire, which is week one of summer.

CF: Over the years of covering your program, I’ve noticed a trend of growth regarding defensive linemen from year four to five. Cleyon Laing and Jake McDonough come to mind. Is Brandon a guy you see that happening with? 

YM: Oh yeah. You look at him. You look at Cory Morrissey. Jake Lattimer was a guy we moved down to defensive end. Steve Ruempolhamer progressed. Most of the time, you look in this league and guys being “Big 12 ready” are juniors and seniors. Unfortunately sometimes you have to play younger guys but hopefully you don’t have to play them a ton and you can ease them into it. But as a junior and senior in our program, guys are physically ready to play when they are juniors and seniors. That’s kind of the way that we look at it. Usually it takes our guys a couple of years to get them up to speed. Sometimes guys come in a little bit faster and are ready a little quicker but even Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, as true freshmen, they weren’t ready to play here. As sophomores, they were okay but as juniors and seniors, they were really good players. They were durable. Jake played at a high level and had some bumps but if you go back and look at the guys who have played here over the last five years – Carter Bykowski took five years. Some of that was position with Kelechi Osemele being in front of him, a second round pick. Carter could have played as a junior but as a senior played at a pretty high level. Sometimes you get in the situation where you have to play younger guys and you don’t really want to but truly, guys are at their best as juniors and seniors.

Be sure to check out next week for the rest of the interview that focuses on last year’s injuries on the offensive line along with individual players who have made significant strides in the offseason.