Mike Joseph and his strength staff at West Virginia University have the reins for the football team through the summer months on campus.
Their workouts and their teaching are what shape the Mountaineers from the time spring football comes to an end all the way until fall camp gets underway in August. Joseph prepares a regimen that is open to whichever members of the roster want to get better – after all, they are voluntary workouts.
When the newcomers – the freshmen and the transfers – get to campus, Joseph and the rest of his staff are the first coaches they really learn under. The weight room and the turf inside the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility represent the first setting for their careers at WVU.
Joseph has the task of opening their eyes to what will be expected of them over the coming years.
"We're trying to break what they've been told for two and a half years recruiting them," Joseph says, with a hint of a smile that's becoming of a strength coach. "They've been told they're the greatest thing and this and that, which they probably are because we had a very good recruiting class, but at the same time, they have to understand that they're here now."
He has a solid point there. West Virginia's staff, like just about every staff in the nation, spends months or years building up each of these recruits during the courting process. Many of them come in with aspirations of starting, scoring, intercepting, winning and a bunch of other verbs that initially are all about the individual.
Joseph wants to make sure that they understand when they step into the locker room and onto the field, they are just one part of the 11 who do so on any given play, and more than that, they are just a tiny piece of the whole that trudges out to practice every single day.
"Now, they have to work, develop, get stronger, better conditioning and then understand we're all about the team," says Joseph. "We're all about trying to win a championship. The biggest thing is trying to make sure everyone's on the same page. "The older guys have done a good job so far with the younger guys who have been on campus this past week, they've pulled them by the hand and told them to do it this way, get to class."
Veteran leadership is huge this time of year, especially when there are so many other aspects of college life that a rookie must get accustomed to. Not only do the young players have workouts and 7-on-7 practice to attend voluntarily, but they also must get to their classes and stay focused on something other than the co-eds who sit beside them in their lecture hall or on the Personal Rapid Transit system.
"The kids, there's a lot on them accountability-wise," Joseph admits. "They have to want to be here, show up, take classes. It's nice weather out, do I want to hang out at the pool or do I want to come in and work out?"
The staff is hopeful that the players will recognize on their own that the right answer for the team as well as for themselves is the latter. They should want to work out and they should want to get better in all facets of being a student-athlete.
Once camp arrives, Joseph wants to see that his work and that of the veterans has paid off and that each player understands what his role will be in making West Virginia the championship program it strives to be in the Big 12 Conference.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen meets with Joseph throughout the summer and can relay what it is he's looking for the players to accomplish, but the rest of it is in his strength staff's hands. When August rolls around, he'll be able to start playing with his new toys.
"We're going to add 33 percent of our team this summer sometime with 20 new scholarship guys, a bunch of new walk-ons, so there are a lot of guys who we don't even know what they can do yet," says Holgorsen. "The more they can get ahead with some help from the older guys, they can get themselves to where they can compete in August."