LINCOLN — It's a rite of passage every January and February in the Nebraska football program.
The Huskers return to the Osborne Complex not long after the bowl game to start their winter conditioning program, and the annual search begins for the next batch of leaders.
It's also the point where NU players look around and realize that the seniors from the previous season are officially gone — and that was a hearty class of 29 in 2012, and the first that had gone through the first five seasons of the Bo Pelini era together.
“You developed some good relationships and they understood what we wanted to do,” said James Dobson, the Huskers' strength and conditioning coach.
But this winter is no different in that Dobson already has an idea of who will start coming to the forefront. There are always those players who started to show hints of their potential leadership in previous years.
“A lot of guys have just been waiting their turn,” Dobson said. “You're not really surprised. There are some guys that have maybe stayed back a little in the past out of respect for the older guys. You've got an idea right now who's going to step up and take advantage of some things.”
Nebraska started its winter conditioning program last Wednesday, two weeks after returning from the Capital One Bowl where a 45-31 loss to Georgia finished a 10-4 season for the Huskers.
It started with a sense of urgency, too, because of a 2013 plan that has Nebraska kicking off spring practice on March 2. What the Huskers usually stretch over seven or eight weeks will have to be done in about six.
“It'll be a first for me, but it is what it is,” Dobson said. “We're going to go like crazy, and we'll see what we can get done.”
As is the case annually, Dobson declined comment on specific changes or goals for the Huskers. The focus every year is simply “to try to get these guys more athletic,” he said, which NU attempts to do through a combination of power, mobility and acceleration work.
The seniors-to-be include several Huskers who have played a lot of football, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, receiver Quincy Enunwa, defensive end Jason Ankrah, cornerback Ciante Evans and offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles and Spencer Long.
If they weren't leaders before, Dobson said, they've been taught by those in the past how to go about their business.
“Ultimately, they're going to decide what they're going to be,” Dobson said.
The winter also is a chance for Dobson and his assistants to dig their hooks a little deeper into the 2012 newcomers. The NU strength and conditioning staff gets players for eight hours a week during this time, compared to during the season that work has to coexist in a 20-hour window with practice, meetings, games, etc.
“Obviously with the freshmen we had them during the summer and through the season, but this is a different kind of training and a whole new door is opened up for them,” Dobson said. “It's definitely a different pace. I'm excited about it.
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“It slows down for them, with no practice or meetings that they also have to worry about. But as far as the work it ramps way up.”
Dobson said NU will go hard for about five weeks and then back off enough so players are ready to get a good and fair evaluation in spring practice. Some of the time that the Huskers lose this year during winter conditioning, he said, will be used by getting right back into the weight room the Monday after the April 6 spring game.
Overall, NCAA rules require that players are given nine weeks off between the bowl game and the start of fall camp in August, and it's up to programs to decide how to use it.
“We've just got to be smart in what we do and what our objectives are,” Dobson said.
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