Joey Batson recalls the time he first encountered Boyd Epley in person. It was on an elevator in New Orleans in the late 1980s.
Batson speaks of the moment as if he had encountered Elvis.
“I got on the elevator, and Boyd got on it with another guy,” said Batson, now the director of football strength and conditioning at Clemson, the defending national champion. “I was just a graduate assistant at Clemson back then, man, and I’m standing there looking at this dude like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Boyd Epley.’ I didn’t even know what to say. I almost turned my back to him. I was intimidated.”
When Epley, a pioneer in the world of strength and conditioning, recently visited Clemson’s state-of-the-art football training facility -- accompanied by Nebraska head strength coach Zach Duval and a few NU administrators -- Batson no longer was intimidated. After all, Batson has two national championship rings not to mention 30-plus years in the business, including 23 as Clemson’s head strength coach.
“But believe me, it’s a source of pride for me to say I was brought into this business by a guy who worked with Boyd Epley,” Batson told the Journal Star, referring to Gary Wade, the former Clemson head strength and conditioning coach (1985-96).
Wade, now an assistant athletic director for facilities at Clemson, worked at Nebraska as an assistant under Epley from 1976-79. Batson in 1997 succeeded Wade as Clemson’s head man, meaning the Tigers’ rise as a program -- two national championships in the past three years and a No. 1 ranking by the Associated Press and coaches to begin this season -- can be attributed in part to the Husker Power phenomenon.
Batson studied Husker Power extensively. He’s watched videotapes and read books.
“When I got started in the business, Gary taught me everything that he brought from Nebraska -- the system and how it worked,” Batson said. “I was into power lifting. So I was kind of meshing the two and figuring out how it all worked. Gary was a tremendous organizer. Just took a lot of pride in the profession. He taught me how to be a professional strength and conditioning coach. Taught me organizational skills. And all this is a result of Boyd Epley because of what Boyd taught his staff.
“Really, for the last 30-plus years, our strength and conditioning program, especially football, has been pretty much the lineage of Nebraska.”
Batson added, “I told Boyd when he visited a few weeks ago that I was part of that Husker Power tree. Those roots run really, really deep.”
When you consider the history and prestige of Husker Power and extensive nature of Epley’s “coaching tree” -- the 100-plus guys who worked under the Nebraska strength and conditioning guru and went on to work elsewhere -- it seems a bit ridiculous that the NU football program now ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of training facilities.
BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo last week finished a bus tour of the Big Ten's football programs. He told me Nebraska and Wisconsin occupy the bottom of the West Division in the facilities arms race. Yes, the bottom. NU sits behind even Illinois, which last week opened a $79.2 million football headquarters.
Of course, the college football facilities arms race is cyclical in nature. Nebraska’s last major project was in 2006. That’s an eternity in this race. NU's facilities are adequate now, at best. Long story short, the cycle dictates that it’s time for another big push by Nebraska, and from what I’m hearing, such a project sounds inevitable. NU can’t afford to wait. It knows that. It’s a safe bet university leaders are getting their ducks in a row before unveiling what I’m guessing will be a show-stopper, something in excess of $100 million.
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Coaches all the time tell players “to control what you can.” Well, Nebraska can’t control where it’s located. It can’t control the weather. But it can control the type of facilities in which its athletes train. Which is why NU leaders need to close the deal on a primo facility.
Close the deal. Get it right. That perhaps explains why Epley and other Nebraska officials were visiting Clemson.
Get those ducks in a row. Learn the latest technology, the best equipment, the best infrastructure.
“To me, it’s about time management,” Batson said. “You think about the time restraints we have with players and the intensity that you have to train with now -- the tempo of training. The more space you have, the more stations you have, the more work you can get done.”
In the offseason, Batson can train players for eight hours a week.
“You have to pack a lot into that eight hours,” he said.
Clemson’s football-only facility even has a nap room. Tremendous idea.
Nebraska officials saw it all at Clemson. They saw Dabo Swinney's palace. Good move.
Time to get back to the front of the pack in the arms race, or at least somewhere close to it.
Epley, of course, started the Husker Power phenomenon in 1969. A Husker Power 50th anniversary dinner is set for Friday night. This is a big week for Boyd and all those who made Husker Power something to behold.
“That was the gold standard in strength and conditioning,” Batson said.
But the world caught up. Clemson certainly caught up, and then passed Nebraska.
Now, it’s time for NU to make a move, sooner rather than later.