Originally created 02/11/99

From chickens to champions?



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Lou Holtz now starts the real work of turning South Carolina from chickens to champions.

The coach's winter conditioning program, which some former Notre Damers called the "pukefest," began on Monday with an eye toward increasing the Gamecocks' speed, strength and agility.

"(Our goals) are very constant from year to year but differ from place to place," he said Wednesday.

Holtz said through the training sessions, which last until spring football practice begins March 20, he will establish work ethic, discipline -- "And I'm talking about if the coach says something, it's not just a suggestion," Holtz said -- quickness, conditioning and related skills. The first scrimmage is scheduled for April 1 and the spring game on Saturday, April 17.

Holtz looks like anything but an authoritarian in his sparsely decorated office. But his success, popularity and philosophy are everywhere, from the three flattering books neatly lined up on the coffee table to the bumper sticker on his closet door that sounds like a TV ad: "How to you spell relief? H-O-L-T-Z"

He says his Gamecocks won't need relief from crazy, sickening workouts. "But you do have to set some standards," Holtz said. "It might be a little more intensity than they're used to. But by your second year, you can take it to another level. But they think it's easier because they've been through it before."

Holtz remembers his first off-season program at Notre Dame -- players pouring sweat, large barrels for, ahem, vomiting, ruffled faculty. "They still talk about that. That is legendary," he said.

Holtz and his coaches have shown Gamecock players the agility drills they will be expected to perform during the 75-minute workouts. By the end -- besides leaner, stronger, quicker players -- Holtz hopes to forge a bond with players he and his staff can call on in the fourth quarter against Tennessee or Florida.

"We'll get to know them and they'll know us," said Holtz, who has already thought out potential position moves.

Defender Teddy Salters will be tried at fullback, while Boo Williams, who shared time in the backfield with Troy Hambrick, will get a look at wide receiver. Sharp-looking freshman fullback Antoine Nesmith could be switched to tailback.

Some receivers will be worked at cornerback, where all-star Arturo Freeman is expected to return as a team leader. And several offensive and defensive linemen will swap positions, though Holtz wouldn't get specific.

Holtz was coy about his offensive set, but said it would largely be two- or one-back sets as he used at Notre Dame.

He noted when he had versatile option quarterbacks like Rickey Foggie at Minnesota and Tony Rice at Notre Dame, he ran the option. When he had strong-armed passers like Fighting Irish stars Steve Beuerlein and Rick Mirer, he threw more often.

His defense will revolve around three linebackers.

That's for later in the year, however. Now is the time to connect with players who might be a little wary of a coaching staff eager to improve on a 1-10 season.

Holtz knows he should change his approach to relating with today's college athletes. "But I don't," the coach said.

He'll build trust and respect, not through negotiations with players, but by delivering on promises. It's more difficult these days because trust isn't important to people who might have been hurt in trusting others, Holtz said.

"If you don't trust me, then we don't have a chance in football," he said.