The Nevada football team's season opener is more than 70 days away. The Wolf Pack won't start fall camp for another six weeks. But that doesn't mean the team is just sitting around waiting for full-squad practices to begin. Nevada is in the middle of its summer strength and conditioning program, which Jordon Simmons says is his favorite time of the year.
"It's our time to take the hard work the guys have put in during the winter and really turn that into what's going to help them on the field," said Simmons, who is in his fifth season leading Nevada football's strength and conditioning program. "It's all about speed, it's all about power, it's all about violence of action. That's my favorite part for sure. It's a good time for me."
Nevada is in the middle of its eight-week summer conditioning, which is focusing on speed building after the winter is used to build strength. Simmons said adding power without sacrificing speed is one of his keys in physically developing Wolf Pack players.
"In the winter, it's more building size and strength depending on the guy, depending on the position," Simmons said. "During the summer, it's really about taking that strength and it's rate of force development, which basically means moving fast. During the winter, if I can get a guy's max to go from 315 to 365, I want that 365 to be moved as fast as he was moving the 315 during the summer. It's just take that strength and make it as powerful and violent as we can."
One of Jay Norvell's main focuses after taking over Nevada's program before the 2017 season was creating a faster team. His goal when the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in the early 2010s was to have the nation's fastest team. That hasn't really changed since he took over the Wolf Pack.
Simmons said the gains the program has made in its strength and speed over the last five seasons is vast.
"It's pretty special to be perfectly honest with you," Simmons said. "A lot of it comes from recruiting. A lot of it comes from buy in from the guys. That's what I'm most proud of. When you just pull out the spreadsheet and look at the numbers, it's night and day different. But it's been the guys understanding and buying into the program and what we're trying to do, so it falls on their shoulders. You give them the tools and try to motivate guys, but looking around at the room when I have the guys there, that's what excites me and makes me proud. They'll admit that I get a little emotional sometimes, but it's special because it shows they've bought in and put in the work, and it's going to show on the field, and it has already."
Norvell and his on-field assistants can only have limited access to the players during the summer, so Simmons and his staff are in charge of getting the best out of a roster that has about 100 players. While strength and conditioning work is done in the relative shadows without media or fans closely tracking the day-to-day activities, you can learn a lot about each player's buy in to getting the most out of their talent during these periods.
"You learn a lot," Simmons said. "Guys love to play. Who doesn't? You go out there and have the fans out there and have the cameras on you, and you do not have that during the winter when it's 10 degrees outside and snowing or right now when it's 100-plus. That's one of the things about college football. Being a strength coach in college, you have that motivation aspect to it. You have guys with different levels of buy in, and to be perfectly honestly, that's OK. You're not going to have a team full of guys who want to go on and play in the NFL. Some are here to get their education and this is an avenue for that. I don't think there's any problem with that."
Simmons said the player-to-player accountability inside Nevada's program has improved during his tenure. It's even better entering this season as seniors had the option of returning for another year of eligibility due to COVID-19 impacting the 2020 campaign, which gives Nevada one of its oldest teams ever. Simmons said the Wolf Pack's leadership group has taken ownership of the team.
"Down on the weight room wall, there's a massive sign that says 'Commitment Continuum,'" Simmons said. "Underneath it, it has each level and it has every player's name in one of those categories. If you're 'Existent,' you're going to see it every Monday and it will be there for that week and you'll have an opportunity to change that. You get called out, I guess, but it's the leadership group's responsibility to go and approach that individual and talk to him about why. Is there something going on at home? Is it school? Is it a relationship thing? Do you not feel like you know your place on the team right now? I think that's what makes us special. I've never seen that, and I've been to a lot of different places."
Simmons is one of Norvell's few original staffers still with the program. He said he's had a few phone calls over the years to gauge his interest from other schools but has declined those opportunities because of his belief in Norvell and the Wolf Pack players. Simmons' father, Jerry, spent 23 years in the NFL as the head strength and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers. That made the younger Simmons want to follow in his father's footsteps.
"I thought it was cool as a little kid," Simmons said. "My dad's not the biggest guy in the world, so you have these 6-foot-6, 315-pound NFL guys and my dad looking up at them yelling at them and them straightening up and 'Yes, sir.' When I was a little kid, I thought, 'My dad's got it.' Watching him through the years and seeing that happening, but then them coming over to our house for Thanksgiving. Or them coming in and talking to him because they had something going on where they needed advice. I watched that growing up and knew that's the kind of relationship I wanted to have."
In his role at Nevada, Simmons also serves as a conduit between NFL scouts and the Wolf Pack program. With Nevada entering the season with a handful of draft hopefuls, including QB Carson Strong, WR Romeo Doubs and TE Cole Turner, Simmons said the interest from NFL teams has ratcheted up entering the 2021 campaign.
"One thing I do want to mention about that that I think is pretty special is a lot of the guys you named or all of them were very under-recruited," Simmons said. "They weren't five stars. They weren't getting multiple offers from Power 5s. That's a testament to them and their work ethic and their buy in and what they've shown up every day and done since they've come to this campus. Carson, for example, we were having an event up in the stadium club (a few years ago) and Carson, our new quarterback who had just gotten here, was down the field throwing the ball as a freshman and shagging his own balls.
"There's a ton more names that I can name, but they've created their own success, and that's really cool. In terms of the scouts, it's exponentially more than it's been. I get a lot more questions. I think we'll have a record crowd here for pro day. You'll see a lot of buzz around them, and it's warranted, it's legitimate buzz that they've earned, and I'm excited to see what they do in the future."