As you enter the Heavener Football Complex and step onto the green turf that leads you into the very heart of Florida athletics, you can smell the sweat dripping, feel the blood flowing and hear the iron pumping.
“YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!” shouts Jeff Dillman. “FINISH!”
Rows and rows of benches and free weights with chains dangling and resistance bands attached sit in front of you, and in the distance dozens more rows of dumbells, press machines, medicine balls … and, yes, a whole lot of pain, await.
This is where champions are bred. This is where the legends of Florida football are grown. This is where players pour in their blood, sweat and tears for the honor and the privilege of playing in front of the rabid Florida faithful.
“This is about everybody, it’s not about one individual,” Dillman, Florida’s director of strength and conditioning says. “We work together as a team here. We’re all about the Gators, and we want to win. We’re firm believers it starts in here.”
If what happens in the Swamp on Saturdays starts in the weight room, where the cold steel glistens as the Gators get ready to begin their midday workout, then workouts the last two years have not been up to snuff.
After trudging to a 15-11 record over the past two seasons, Florida needs a breath of fresh air and a fire lit under it in the weight room.
“It’s a big motivation,” linebacker Jon Bostic said. “We didn’t have the season we wanted last year, so basically we came back in January and started there. In January we knew as soon as we walked in if we wanted to be a better team it’s going to start with everything we do. Hands behind the line when we’re running, running through the line. Everything.”
Enter Dillman, with a fiercely intense look in his eyes that can scare you into the next rep and a booming, commanding voice that won’t allow you to quit before every last rep is done and every fiber of your being is screaming in pain.
Perfection is demanded. Not just demanded, but displayed on the dozens of flat screen TVs that circle and dot the facility.
These TVs aren’t the ones you see at your local gym. Florida’s players aren’t coming in to watch ESPN highlights as they work out. This isn’t a game. It’s a competition. It’s a drive.
On these TVs, highlights of past Olympics and World Championships play. The top weight-lifters in the world explode through deadlifts, power cleans, snatches and jerks.
There’s a new workout regimen in Gainesville, and the name of the game is explosion, power and total body control. Dillman has years of experience teaching this regimen, and he exudes confidence and control as he shows the different techniques he teaches.
“We use Olympic lifts, we use some powerlift movements, we do plyometrics,” Dillman says. “I’m a big believer in do what works, save the rest for clinic talks.”
Near the end of Florida’s indoor 40-yard dash segment hang two boxing bags, both heavy bags. Like Dillman, the Gators are focused on harnessing their aggression for use on Saturdays. There is no stone left unturned for Florida’s director of strength and conditioning — no edge to be gained that hasn’t been considered.
Dillman laughs as he looks over his equipment and names some of the machines only the most dedicated athletes and body-builders have even heard of.
“Twenty-two thousand square foot facility, you can look around the facility and see every piece of equipment in the world here,” he chuckles. “If we don’t have it, let me know. We’ll probably get it.”
It’s that attention to every minute detail that has helped Dillman rise to the top of his profession. Every lift is closely monitored for proper form and technique. If a player does a lift wrong, he’ll do it again.
As a sturdy young man shows off a few Olympic lifts to a horde of media gathered around watching intently, scribbling notes, Dillman’s voice violently slices through the silence.
“Jump!” he shouts. “Got out from your body a little bit. Straight up, straight down, big guy. Here we go! Boom!”
Startled reporters quickly jump back, shocked out of their reverie by the sudden burst of enthusiasm. Now all eyes are on Dillman as he turns back to the gathering and explains the reasoning behind his lifting program.
Florida is shooting for athletes that can blow people off the ball. The Gators want power and aggression. They want to get back to being one of the most feared teams in the conference.
If the saying that team reflects its coach is true, coach Will Muschamp has done everything in his power to ensure his team reflects his intensity and attitude.
Dillman is a bigger, stronger, balder version of the guy who will forever be known as “Boom” for his passionate outbursts on the sideline. He’s a reflection of Muschamp in the mirror, for all intents and purposes.
And he’s got the background and the experience to help Muschamp and the Gators turn the corner. He’s giving it everything he’s got to make sure not a second is wasted in getting back to the top.
“The environment that we make here is a positive and a high-energy environment,” he says. “If you train with high intensity and high energy at all times, you’re going to play that way. That’s what we expect out of our athletes that come in here.
“Hard work beats talent when talent’s not working.”
Gator Country will have a full series of articles detailing the Florida strength and conditioning program based on the inside access granted by the University Athletic Association. This piece is the first of several that will detail Dillman’s plans for the Gators. Stay tuned. YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!