DeKALB – It was the day of rest, so strength and conditioning coach Brad Ohrt didn’t expect any Northern Illinois football players to be thinking about workouts a couple Sunday afternoons ago.
Chandler Harnish couldn’t help himself.
The Huskies’ quarterback had watched his teammates during daily workout sessions, and he didn’t think there was anything to worry about. But he wanted to be sure. So Harnish sent Ohrt a text message asking if he needed to “get any of his teammates in line.”
Ohrt and Harnish texted each other back and forth about 10 times. They discussed subtle changes that needed to be made and necessary areas for improvement. Ohrt said Harnish’s dedication was staggering.
“When you get something like that on a Sunday situation when we’re going into a big week where we need that push, that’s a great text message to get,” Ohrt said. “I thought that was a big deal. It just kind of tells you what players you’re dealing with.”
The players Ohrt is dealing with have a wealth of experience. NIU is a senior-laden team with players who have proven they understand the importance of putting in the summer work so there can be some fall glory.
Ohrt said there were a few early bumps as players bought into his system. There are several similarities between Ohrt and former strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein, who followed Jerry Kill to Minnesota in December. But Ohrt acknowledged he’s given things a different twist.
Klein focused on long sprints, while Ohrt focuses on short bursts of energy and short recovery time. The players lifted three days a week under Klein. They’re lifting four days a week this summer.
Players follow a general weekly schedule, but not all of them do the same drills. Fifth-year seniors, like linebacker Pat Schiller, are expected to take care of their bodies and can pace themselves accordingly. Schiller said underclassmen get a different experience.
“At my age, as long as I’ve played the game, I know my body now,” Schiller said. “I think coach Ohrt is very understanding of that. He knows at this point of the game I wouldn’t just sit out of something just because I didn’t want to do it.”
Ohrt is confident the players have bought into his system. Any time he doubts, all he needs to do is think back to a couple Sunday afternoons ago.
“My question going in was the openness, the willingness. This program won, so why would they want to do it any differently?” Ohrt said. “I had to come in and put my stamp on the program and say, ‘This is how I want to do things. This is how I want to move forward with this program.’
“The guys have done a really good job of receiving that. Their thing to me when I got here was basically, as long as it’s going to make us better, as long as it’s going to help us win, all right, let’s go. They’ve done a great job.”
NIU has gone through regular conditioning workouts since the middle of January, and most of the players stuck around campus to continue their workouts this summer. With the calendar flipping to July, Ohrt said the team is in its most critical conditioning month.
Harnish is aware of how important these next four weeks are.
“The months of June and July are by far more important than August, September and October,” Harnish said, “because it’s what you do in those offseason months that allow you to perform to the ability that you can during the season. We have to push to the next level if we want to be an 11-win team, or better.
“We put our bodies through the worst possible grind ever. We work out five days a week, we throw three days a week, and this is only for 12 games a year. So we come out here every day trying to get stronger. We’re never happy with where we’re at.”