A New York Times article credited Nebraska as the birthplace of the modern strength and conditioning program. Bob Ley's report on ESPN's Outside the Lines went even further, stating, "Nebraska is the home of off season conditioning. No college has made a greater commitment to such programs and this is where it all started."
Bob Devaney (above) joined Nebraska in 1962 as the head football coach and immediately established his football program as a force in the Big Eight conference. Prior to Devaney's arrival, Nebraska had seven consecutive losing seasons in football.
Devaney engineered an immediate turnaround with a 9-2 record in 1962. The following year Devaney coached an even better 10-1 season and claimed the conference title and an Orange Bowl victory
His success continued through 1966, with records of 9-2, 10-1, and 9-2 However, during consecutive 6-4 seasons in 1967 and 1968, Devaney became the subject of a whispering campaign about whether he had peaked. In response, the coaching staff started looking around for something to help them get back on track.
"Alabama looked at us as a bunch of big, slow guys from the North, and they were fast, quick guys from the South," said former NU linebacker Adrian Fiala. "After the 1966 season, the next few weeks before conditioning got under way, Bob Devaney told us we had to lose in terms of weight. Everybody was put on a program to lose weight."
This weight loss might have ranged from 10 to 15 pounds. Fiala said that after the weight loss, Nebraska couldn't enforce its will anymore on offense. Its offensive line lacked power and its skilled players lacked strength. When you are playing in the Big Eight and you re undersized, things happen, and they are not good.
For the first time since Devaney's first season in 1962, Nebraska would not lead the Big Eight in total offense. Looking back, it was clear that Nebraska was headed in the wrong direction physically. Nebraska was shoved around, and the point production fell off. In 1965, their average was 32.1 points per game and ranked second in the country, but in 1967 their average was down to 12.7 points a game. Nebraska scored more than 17 points just once in 1968 and tumbled to a 6-4 record.
The 1968 season was nearly a mirror image. Devaney was concerned about job security at that point, especially after Oklahoma posted a 47-0 victory over Nebraska in the 1968 season finale in Lincoln on national television. It was the worst loss during the Devaney era at Nebraska and the low point of his regime.
Nebraska had a weight room in 1968, but it was only for injured athletes.
The Schulte Fieldhouse weight room (above, looking west) was a modest 416 square foot room which included a Universal gym, a few dumbbells, one 400-pound Olympic set, an additional Olympic bar, a leg extension machine and a squat rack (see below, looking east).
Most of this equipment was purchased when a health club in Lincoln failed. At the time, lifting weights was not recommended for healthy athletes.
In 1968, Devaney asked offensive line coach. In 1968, Devaney asked offensive line coach Cletus Fischer, assistant track coach Dean Brittenham, and athletic trainer George Sullivan to create a winter conditioning program for football.
The program aimed to recreate physical dominance. They created a very demanding eight station circuit of drills and running stations. Football coaches ran most of the stations. Unfortunately, with 40 minutes of continuous work, the result was more endurance than strength.
I was a pole vaulter who spent a lot of time in the weight room rehabbing a back injury. Coach Fischer saw me and asked me to help him make a film to show the football players what to do at each station. Then he asked if I would run a lifting station.
I oversaw a station where the players lifted 47.3 pound bars with cement cans on each end continuously for five minutes. I was happy to do so but I know the lifting station and several other stations were too much endurance with not enough rest built into the stations. One of the stations was continuous running for five minutes. The new winter program was very demanding for the players and even though it had a heavy focus on endurance it was better than anything they had done before because the players showed a good work ethic.
I was not a football player at Nebraska, but I had been in high school and was now focused on pole vaulting. In my sport I ran as fast as I could carrying a 16' long pole 40 yards before vaulting over a crossbar. I increased my bodyweight from 160 to 180 pounds in two months by lifting weights at a health club and I knew endurance running was not what the Nebraska football players needed. I was surprised that only a handful of athletes were lifting weights at Nebraska to get stronger and faster. I was stronger than all the Nebraska football players and just a couple of years later would win the Mr. Nebraska title and set state lifting records.
Strength and conditioning historian and author Dr. Ken Leistner has stated that, when Nebraska Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Bob Devaney responded to the urging of Assistant Football Coach Tom Osbourne and hired me as the first paid collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach, history was made. Devaney decided to take a chance and give strength training a try but first he looked me in the eye and said, "If anyone gets slower you're fired."
I was hired to create a strength program and put in charge of the winter conditioning program. It took me a couple of years to convince the coaches to build rest intervals into the stations and install rest periods between stations. With rest data I was able to prove the focus needed to be on building muscle to improve strength and speed which would then improve on field performance.
Nebraska had an incredible turn around in one year going from a 47-0 loss to Oklahoma to a 44-14 win over them in Norman the next year. The Husker Power strength and conditioning program had a modest beginning in the Schulte Fieldhouse. Devaney approved an expansion by removing the wall between the weight room and a film room
The strength and conditioning concepts, along with innovations in lifting equipment, impacted millions worldwide.
As a result of Coach Devaney's statement regarding what would happen if any players got slower, Nebraska players were tested on a variety of performance tests to be able to show Coach Devaney their progress. Testing the players before and after the season provided me with the facts we needed to change attitudes toward strength training for athletes forever.
Mike Beran, an offensive guard, was one of the most dedicated to lifting weights in Husker history, shown here doing the incline press.
As a freshman Mike was 180 pounds and ran 5.5 seconds for the 40 yards. The Nebraska football coaches encouraged him to go to a smaller school because he was too small, not strong enough or fast enough to play in the offensive line for the Huskers. Mike (Red) Beran proved everyone wrong. He worked so hard lifting weights that he gained everyone's respect and started at guard for Nebraska's 1971 National Championship team.
His senior year, Beran was 230 pounds, ran a 4.9 second forty, and had a 360 pound bench press. His remarkable progress and work ethic set the standard for all Nebraska athletes. No one could believe athletes could actually gain 50 pounds and yet run faster. It was improvements in speed like his that changed everyone's mind about lifting weights.
In 1970 the average bench press for Husker players was 212.2 pounds. The average bodyweight was 212.7 pounds. Linebacker John P:itts became the first Husker to bench press 300 pounds. Offensive Center, Doug Dumler was the first to power clean 300 pounds in October of 1970. Carl Johnson, a junior transfer from Arizona benched 375 pounds which set a new record for football. Along with Carl, Keith Wortman, Dick Rupert and Bob Newton were also junior college transfers from California that made a huge impact in the development of Husker Power. They had lifted weights at their junior colleges and quickly helped create a culture for Nebraska that lifting was an important part of preparing to play football.
Offensive tackle Bob Newton was the first player to incline press 300 pounds. At 6'5" and 275 pounds he overpowered his opponents. He was one of the toughest players and loved to lift. Nebraska did not have carpet in the weight room at that time and Bob had a bad habit of spitting on the floor. I asked him to stop spitting on the floor, but Bob continued. I stood up to him and asked him not to come back for two weeks. Carl Johnson later told me that he gained a lot of respect for me that day for standing up to one of the toughest players and a leader on the Nebraska team. Newton and I then became best of friends and he became my first All American offensive lineman.
A 35-31 win in the game of the Century against Oklahoma in 1970 put Nebraska in position to win its first national title against LSU.
Nebraska won the National Championships in football again with a win over Alabama and legendary coach Bear Bryant in the Sugar Bowl. After 125 years of college football, Sporting News magazine announced that the 1971 Nebraska football team was the best football team of all time. Johnny Rogers, Heisman Trophy winner, was shown on the cover of sporting news.
In 1971 Larry Jackson became the first Husker to win the Outland Trophy Award recognizing the Outstanding Lineman in the nation.
In 1972 a 1400 square foot Circuit Room was opened in the new South Stadium at Nebraska.
This room provided a different type of training where the athletes would move from one station to the next until their circuit was complete. Circuit training with the correct work/rest ratio proved to be a great way for athletes to build muscle.
In 1973 at age 35, Tom Osborne was named Nebraska's Head football coach. His 25 year career then generated 255 winds and three more national championships, a Hall of Fame induction and more. While Coach Devaney is credited with hiring the first strength coach it was Tom who recognized the need and convinced Coach Devaney to give strength training a try.
In 2005 Tom Osborne said, "I remember a time when everyone believed in distance running and endurance training which was the mindset toward training football back in the '60s and '70s. Boyd did not agree with that philosophy at all and didn't believe that was what it took to make a great football player." Osborne would tell you, "What the strength program did for Nebraska was give us something we didn't have before and that was the ability to develop the player's size and strength."
It was Osborne that first recognized that players who were lifting weights were also improving their speed.
Jim Williams became my first non-paid assistant strength coach; however, he was hired away by Arkansas in 1973 before he could be offered a paid position at N.U. Jim was later hired away from Arkansas by Wyoming before going to the New York Giants, New York Jets, and Philadelphia Eagles.
Also, in 1973, my second non-paid assistant was hired away by SMU than later worked for UCLA.
The Lifter of the Year award for Football in 1974, Center Rik Boness won this award the first two years. Boness was 188 pounds as a freshman and 220 as a senior, with a 4.6 forty yard dash. His dedication showed as he drove 50 miles from his home in Omaha each workout all summer to train at Nebraska. His hard work paid off, being named All American center twice.
Nebraska became the first school to lift weights in an organized summer program in 1974. A conditioning manual was created for the athletes that could not be in Lincoln.
Note: I find it interesting to look online and elsewhere for football strength-lifting programs. And the strength and conditioning books are as well. Here's some of Boyd Epley's 2004 book:
In July 1975, Dr. Aleen Swofford was hired as the first Women's Athletic Director at Nebraska and I was asked to introduce strength training to all women's sports. Title IX opened the door for female athletes to lift weights in the facilities that were previously for men only.
Also in 1975, the University of Miami hired me to design their first football weight room. Steve Bliss, my third non-paid assistant, was then hired by Miami to run it. Bliss was later hired by the legendary Woody Hayes to be Ohio's first strength coach.
Mike Arthur, my first assistant to be paid, in 1976 set the world record deadlift record at 132 pounds bodyweight with 540.25 pounds.
Arthur would become one of the top strength coaches in the nation, including being inducted into the USA Hall of Fame. Mike has stayed with the Huskers his entire career and has become one of the most respected strength coaches in the country for his expertise in researching the best ways to improve performance for student-athletes. Mike has worked his entire career as the "bridge" between research and application.
In 1976 Rod Horn won the Football Lifter of the Year award as a 260 pound lineman. He power cleaned 342 pounds, snatched 237, squatted 560, at 6'4.5".
Rod was known for eating a loaf of bread and drinking a gallon of milk every day. Also, in 1976, Head Coach Rick Forzano of the Detroit Lions hired me as their first strength and conditioning coach, but a week later Tom Osborne convinced me to stay with the Huskers. Tom said, "If you stay with me here at Nebraska, I will always be there for you." That was all I needed to hear.
Husker Power celebrated 100 wins in football with a victory against Penn State 42-17 in 1977 and in that same year offensive guard Lawrence Cooley became the first Husker player to bench press 400 pounds. He was using the "Jack Bench." This bench featured an adjustable bar catch to adjust the bar height based on arm length. Two tractor jacks donated were mounted in the frame. The Jack Bench is now at the Lutcher Stark Museum in Austin, Texas (photo below).
The search for adjustable bar height led Nebraska to develop several other adjustable products leading to the invention of the Transformer in 2002.
Note: In 2002, Rivers Metal of Lincoln, NE, developed the Transformer for the Huskers. These machines allow athletes that train with free weights to have unprecedented safety while doing it. The safety levels move electrically which provide the most efficient way to train. The Transformer transforms from a squat machine into a hang clean machine with the touch of a button. These electric machines also allow the best environment for teaching proper lifting technique for both the explosive Olympic moves and the slower strength moves.
Husker power Club purchases an Apple computer as the first computer for the strength program in 1977, which changed how strength programs were printed for athletes.
In 1978 offensive tackle Kevin Clark set the incline press record for football at 350 pounds at a bodyweight of 270.
July 28-29, 1978, the National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Nebraska Continuing Education Center. The University of Nebraska had a big influence on the success of the NSCA.
Enjoy Your Lifting!