Enthusiasm was dripping off of all coaches and players that attended. The change can be seen on three different levels from the team; attitude, conditioning, and coaching philosophy.
The feeling from the team is that everyone is tired of being “one win away” from playing in a major bowl game. Coach Jeff Jagodzinski did not hide the fact that the bar is being set higher this season, “These guys have been one game away from being in a BCS bowl. I told the guys in our 1st meeting that it’s their turn to go ahead and get that extra win so we can get into a BCS Bowl. That’s our goal to play in a New Year’s Day Bowl.”
Defensive tackle B.J. Raji agreed with his coach. “It’s a little more tough, practices are a little longer, but our mentality’s changed. Everything we’re doing is geared toward winning a championship. Ever since I’ve been here, like in my freshman year, we were a game away from the Fiesta Bowl.” After a short pause Raji added “It’s time for a change.”
At the same time, with goals being set in place, the team isn’t overlooking any of the teams on their schedule to think about the upcoming match-up with former coach Tom O’Brien or Notre Dame. When linebacker JoLonn Dunbar was asked to comment on it he replied, “I think we’d be follish to overlook Wake Forest. They’re the ACC Champions, and I don’t know who overlooks the conference champions… T-Minus 22”
With the goals of winning the ACC came much harder conditioning work for the team, including the big man Raji. It was surprising when Coach Jags told the media that Raji and Ron Brace were down under 325 pounds. When I confirmed with the slimmed down Raji if he was under 325 he replied, “Yea, I’m at about 324 ¾ pounds”. Hey, it still counts right?
With that being said, Coach Jags is impressed with the work of the two tackles. “They’re stronger and faster than they were. They are going to be a force inside, especially in our run defense.” Jags went on to explain that besides the obvious benefits of being faster with weight loss it also helps in preventing injury and recovering quicker from injury.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, quarterback Matt Ryan has been focused on getting bigger rather than smaller in the offseason. Speaking on Ryan, offensive coordinator Steve Logan said, “He (Ryan) went into the weight room, and really for the first time he was put deep into a strength program.” Logan described how Ryan is able to throw a pass about 60 yards now and added, “I think Matt’s got another 8 or 9 pounds on him now. He really did change himself physically, and I think he’s better equipped to take a pounding that might come his way.”
Brian Toal will have on the team. Eagle Insider was able to catch up with Coach Jags, OC Steve Logan, DC Frank Spaziani, and QB Matt Ryan to talk about both of those topics.