Evan Simon made his goals public last season in his first year as the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Wisconsin football team.
One of them was to have the best-conditioned football team in the Big Ten Conference.
When Simon met with this year’s team for the first time in January, he laid out five new goals for the upcoming season. But don’t expect anyone to reveal what they are.
“I’ve kept those five goals internal with the guys, they know what they are,” Simon said during a recent interview.
It’s not that Simon regrets anything he revealed. But in Year Two in the program, some things don’t need to be spelled out — like striving to be in better shape than the opposing team every Saturday.
“This year, that doesn’t even need to be a goal,” Simon said. “That’s just one of our expectations as a team is that great work capacity.”
Even if no one acknowledges it, one of the primary goals will deal with how the Badgers finished last season.
After winning six straight games to get to 9-2, UW made its biggest leap of the season in the Bowl Championship Series standings, going up four spots to No. 15 after a 20-7 win at Minnesota.
That was also the point, after a couple of weeks of prodding from the media, that UW coach Gary Andersen came close to declaring the Badgers a great team.
“Right now, they’re a very, very good team and verging on being a great team,” Andersen said at the time. “I’m not so sure they’re not a great team right now.”
The Badgers didn’t win again after that, turning in their worst defensive performance of the season in a 31-24 home loss to Penn State, then falling to South Carolina 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl after quarterback Joel Stave was knocked out of the game late in the third quarter with an injury to his right shoulder.
“The way coach Andersen is, just as I am, you’re not going to pop the champagne bottle before it’s meant to be popped,” Simon said after UW appeared to do just that.
Certainly, there were lessons to be learned in how the Badgers handled the last two games.
“I think we’re all competitive so guys reflect on that,” Simon said. “To me, reflecting on those last two games also ties to what our goals are this year.
“It has been addressed by us. Once again, speaking to the maturity of our guys, sometimes with this team you don’t have to say certain things. Even though it’s a young team, the tradition of this team and what’s expected … sometimes things don’t have to be said, because things are expected.”
This is a much different team than the senior-dominated team of a year ago. UW had 16 seniors and 25 juniors on its spring roster.
“Even your seniors are youthful when it comes to number of reps on the field, compared to last year,” Simon said.
But it’s also Year Two for Andersen and his system, which is a benefit. The only new position coach is Thomas Brown, who took over the running backs when Thomas Hammock went to the Baltimore Ravens.
“The train is just running and gaining speed,” Simon said. “Now, this is the norm. That’s the nicest part about year two … the guys know what to expect.”
Summer workouts began on Monday, with a few tweaks to the schedule. With the spring game two weeks earlier, it allowed more time for players to get healthy before the start of summer workouts.
“You have your handful of post-surgical guys from the season, but there’s nobody that maybe finished spring ball with bumps and bruises that shouldn’t be 100 percent come summer,” Simon said.
That presumably includes Stave, the junior who sat out the final week of spring due to persistent soreness in his shoulder.
That opened up the quarterback battle between Stave and junior Tanner McEvoy, the former junior college transfer who filled in at safety last year.
“The nice part, which is part of the yearly plan, is you’re always going into summer at 100 percent,” Simon said of Andersen’s tendency to be cautious with injuries in the spring.
Simon didn’t want to address Stave’s situation directly, saying, “At this point, I’ll hold back comment on Joel, but we should be good.”
One of the things Simon tells recruits is “football is human demolition derby.”
Using the car reference, this is the time of year where players can go into the shop for tune-ups to make sure everything is running smoothly.
A big part of summer workouts also is developing a new group of leaders. That will be even more important given all of the senior leaders who walked out the door.
Some of the leaders have already been identified, seniors such as linebacker Derek Landisch and nose guard Warren Herring, as well as juniors such as safety Michael Caputo and tailback Melvin Gordon.
But Simon said not to overlook younger players, too. The Badgers have a leadership council comprised of freshmen to seniors.
“If you’re on that leadership council, you were voted there by your peers,” Simon said. “We expect everyone on that leadership council to lead when they’re supposed to lead. So, freshmen lead the freshmen, sophomores lead the sophomores and those upperclass guys are an example across the board for everybody.”