VALPARAISO | Eight straight losing seasons and just three wins over the last four years have gotten to be too much for some members of the Valparaiso football team.
Instead of returning home for the summer like most of the Crusaders have done in the past, a dedicated group of players decided to stick around Valparaiso for the offseason and take part in a strenuous workout program.
The coaching staff didn’t require the players to stay in town, but once senior leaders Jabril Baker, Alex Grask and Keith Larson decided to make the commitment, strength coach Bob Brooks opened the doors to the weight room at any and all times.
“These guys have been tired of the situation they’ve been in and they want to make a change,” Brooks said. “The kids that (Coach Dale) Carlson and the staff are bringing in are good kids. They are dedicated kids and they want to win.”
Once the seniors determined how many players were staying in town, the captains picked a time that would work around classes and jobs. Every weeknight at 7:15, the players gather with Brooks at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Each night is spent on weight training or cardiovascular fitness along with other team bonding activities. Players regularly exchange motivational quotes before each workout.
“The guys that are in here weren’t my closest friends on the team, but we have come together so much this summer,” sophomore running back Jake Hutson said. “Every day we get in here and hold each other accountable. This is a lot different than what it would be if we were staying at home.”
Baker has missed parts of each of the last three seasons after transferring from Wabash with a knee injury. The Indianapolis native cited conditioning as a major team-wide problem last season and the summer workouts are designed to remedy that issue.
“We’d get into the third or fourth quarters and guys would just be tired,” Baker said. “We can’t have that. We need to be fresh in the fourth quarter. The guys that are here are working and the guys that aren’t here keep asking about the workouts. Everyone knows what we’re doing.”
After having mainly underclassmen on the field for the majority of the last three seasons, the Crusaders look to have an experienced core in Carlson’s fourth year. The group of nearly 20 players that are staying in Valpo this summer are a mix of upperclassmen starters, junior college transfers and redshirt freshmen.
“We know what we have this season,” senior linebacker Pat Derbak said. “We’ve got leaders on both sides of the ball in here and these workouts are going to change our team this season.”