When Georgia Southern football strength and conditioning coach Dave Jenkerson thinks back on the 2008 season, in which the Eagles went 6-5 and missed the playoffs for the third-straight year, he doesn’t see it as a failure.
Quite the opposite.
He sees as proof that GSU is right where it needs to be on the football field. The players just need to work that much harder off the field.
“We lost a lot of close games,” Jenkerson said, “and that lingers in our guys’ minds longer than if you were to go out and win the conference, win a national title. Losing by one point? That can’t be done. You gotta come in here and work a little bit harder. You gotta go out there and run a little bit harder as well.
“We’re there. It’s like coach (Chris) Hatcher says. ‘We’re just one play away from turning everything around.’ That one point? That’s just a play. We get that interception or make that big play on defense, the ballgame’s ours. We make that one play on offense, the ballgame’s ours.”
Jenkerson’s role takes place mostly in Iron Works, the University’s workout facility for student-athletes.
For a player, football is a year-round sport — working out, watching tape, studying the playbook, spring practice, fall camp and the season itself — so the only real break is summer, where attendance at Iron Works is voluntary.
To Jenkerson, it’s the voluntary workouts that separate champions from everybody else.
“We can’t force them to be here in the summertime, but the thing is, the guys that aren’t satisfied with a 6-5 record are here in the summertime getting better, working harder,” said Jenkerson, who believes this group has come closest to showing the level of work and dedication he expects.
“I’m averaging about 85-90 guys coming through the weight room every day, and that’s voluntarily. We win titles because of how hard we train in the offseason because in season, that’s where it’s fun. They’re here to play football.”
The attitude in the weight room reflects the attitude on the field. Jenkerson thinks that although Appalachian State has been at or near the top of the Southern Conference and the division since he arrived in Statesboro in 2007 with Hatcher and his staff, it isn’t because the Mountaineers have worked harder.
“Right now you look at it and think they’re the top dog,” said Jenkerson. “We consider ourselves the top dog in this conference, because every time they come here, they’ve got to play to our level. When we go up there, they’ve got to play to our level. It’s a tough schedule every year, but when they come play Georgia Southern, they’ve got to play at our level, because we demand that. Our guys demand that, so we train that way.”
Some of the leadership in the weight room may come as a surprise. While quarterbacks are expected to lead on the field, their regimen in the weight room often differs from those of other positions.
At GSU — not so much.
“You wouldn’t think it of him, being a quarterback, but I’ll tell you this — Lee Chapple comes in every day, works hard, pushes guys and gets mad when you try to tell him, ‘OK, back off a little bit,’ just because he’s a quarterback,” Jenkerson said. “He doesn’t want that.”
Like Chapple, Jenkerson hopes it is doing the ‘little things’ that will lead Georgia Southern over the hump. He believes that the little things are what make improvements.
“The ‘little things’ is the guy that can come in here every day, show up in the proper attire, on time, ready to work and every time he steps under a squat rack or on the bench, he’s giving me everything he has,” said Jenkerson. “If his workout says he’s supposed to do 250 pounds, that guy goes out there and gives me 255. He’s pushing himself that much more. … If you do all the little things in here, and do all the little things in the classroom, and do all the little things on the field, we’re going to have a great team.”