Every year Nick Savage welcomes his team to a session born from love, at least in theory. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, he hangs paper hearts and decorations, adds loving touches to the gym—“all Valentine's. Hearts, banners, Cupid, everything. Custom shirts”—and then proceeds to put his roster through the most intense day they experience in the sport.
The Strength and Conditioning Coach for Florida Gators Football has created a legendary Valentine’s Day workout, adapted from a program builder under former Florida S&C coach (and Savage mentor) Micky Marotti.
“It's just typical, simple movements that we do in the weight room in terms of exercises,” explained Savage back when first arriving in 2018.
“But it's intense. We try to change the environment up in terms of decorations and all that. A lot of that is just to shock the system in terms of different atmosphere. We approach it as an away game. You never know what you're walking into. Our main goal is to program that brain, no matter what's in front of us, we're going to go attack…that is the most challenging workout."
Players dread it, coaches warn about it and the lessons learned can reverberate the rest of the season. And this year, for the first time since head coach Dan Mullen and staff arrived, it came and went with little fanfare.
Back in 2018, two months after Mullen took over the program, the Gators team was introduced to Savage’s infamous offseason tone setter. The moans and groans from players practically reverberated around Gainesville. It was a rude awakening to how far behind the former administrations strength program had been and just how far that team had to go to improve.
“I want them to be uncomfortable,” continued Savage.
“They need to learn how to be uncomfortable, because at some point in the game, in the offseason, whatever it may be, someone's going to be uncomfortable. So my job is to make sure they understand what being uncomfortable is about."
In 2019, players, with a better understanding of what to expect, were able to explain the stations but more importantly, their impact through the season.
“Valentine's (Day) it was something,” commented former middle linebacker David Reese II at the time.
“Everybody across the country probably hears about it, but I feel like we out-worked every team that day. Quite a few of our workouts we probably out-worked a lot of teams around the country, but I don't know. He just cranked up the intensity. The expectations are more. We threw more weight on the bar. But naturally, as a team, we got stronger like we're supposed to."
Added Savage, “the biggest thing is we were able to push harder and turn percentages, reps, schemes, all those things. We were able to do a lot more in terms of our foundation and programming on my part where we were able to push a little harder than last year. Last year it took us a while to build into the true workouts, this year from the get go we were able to put the gas pedal down.”
Now, here in 2020, the Valentine’s Day workout was marked with little more than a few social media posts. And that is one of the greatest indicators of where the Florida Gators program now stands.
Doing the most is now the minimum. A hard workout pushing guys boundaries is no longer a shock, it’s expected. The offseason is more difficult than the games and the standard won’t be lowered. After two seasons in a row with Top 10 finishes, expectations are greater than ever. And the Florida Gators are preparing to meet them; perhaps even surpass. This team—this program—has learned what it takes to win and taking the steps to achieve that success is no longer newsworthy. It simply is what must happen. Nick Savage knows that.
“Guys don’t know really what’s inside of them until they hit that wall. And it’s all a belief and it goes back to that mindset. No matter what’s in front of you, who’s in front of you, where we’re at, we’re gonna go attack and we’re gonna go win.”