In the liminal space between spring ball and preseason practice, college football players don't exactly take the summer off. In those months, teams spend much of their time in the weight room working with the strength and conditioning coach.
By August, some players have shed weight and others have gained it. The strides made in offseason workouts are a common talking point at media days and throughout the preseason. As Arkansas defensive backs coach Dominique Bowman put it, the strength and conditioning coach is "the head coach in the summer time."
For Arkansas football, that leader is Jamil Walker. Walker came to the Razorbacks from Georgia when Sam Pittman did in December 2019. He has since received two pay raises to stay on the staff, most recently a raise to $425,000 per year.
Pittman said it’s Walker’s interpersonal skills that put him and his staff among of the best in the business.
“They’re good with people, and they’re good to people,” Pittman said. “Once you do that, the expectations you have of them, they’ll probably give it to you, because they know you care about them.”
The approach has worked. Arkansas was a physical team last season, leading the SEC in rushing yards.
Entering the 2022-23 season, though, the Razorbacks wanted more in order to compete in a league of big men. According to Pittman, Walker took a slightly different approach than many college teams. Rather than lifting weights and running on different days, Walker had his players do both on the same day. Pittman said the team is both bigger and faster than it was a year ago because of it.
“We look like an SEC football team, in my opinion, now,” Pittman said. “I think we've done a really good job of developing our guys to get bigger and stronger, but also we spent a lot of time on speed development training as well.”
One individual example of Walker’s work is quarterback KJ Jefferson. Jefferson said he started preseason camp at his goal weight of 240 pounds, down five from his listed weight last season. But perhaps the most dramatic example is tight end Trey Knox.
Knox switched from wide receiver to tight end midseason last year. The change in roles required a change in Knox’s body, too. Over the past year and a half, Knox has gained roughly 40 pounds.
Part of that, Knox said, was diet. He said he was “stuffing (his) face” with steak and potatoes, chocolate milk, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But the other half of his gains came in the weight room with Walker, resulting in that 40-pound increase in “good weight.”
“He’s as good as any strength coach in America,” tight ends coach Dowell Loggains said. “You always hear the stories about how important the strength coach is. You don't know it until you get here and see how much time they spend with those guys. The strength staff deserves a ton of credit. It's a huge reason why we win, and those guys have done a great job.”
Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks. You can follow her on Twitter @christinalong00 or email her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Arkansas football strength coach Jamil Walker, Razorbacks ready 2022