BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — At the beginning of the summer, Jake Holland set a goal for himself.
Tipping the scales at 245 pounds, he wanted to trim off five pounds to get to 240. After a summer full of workouts, he can consider that goal reached. And in addition to cutting five pounds from his figure, he also decreased his body fat from 14 percent to 12 percent.
Most of the credit, he said, is due to the strength and conditioning program of coach Ryan Russell, who held a similar position with Gus Malzahn last year at Arkansas State.
“Coach Russell’s strength program is very, very good,” Holland said Tuesday, which marked the last day of Auburn’s summer workouts. “We’re enthusiastic in the workouts. Each, to a man, I believe, we all got stronger and faster. I really enjoyed his system.”
Of course, the senior linebacker didn’t get into better shape for no reason. He wants to see the field more this fall after starting 10 games last season, when he collected 73 tackles. Holland believes he’s now at his optimum playing weight.
And he pointed out it doesn’t hurt that defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme complements the Tigers so well, since they boast a wealth of quick-twitch defenders.
“It’s definitely a high-tempo defense,” he said. “I would say that it gives us more of an edge because it matches up with the speed offenses in the SEC.”
Holland has worked at both the “Mike” (middle) and “Will” (weakside) linebacker spots during the team’s “captain’s practices,” but said his preference is to play in the middle. There’s only one problem: Kris Frost stands in his way at the moment, heading into fall camp as the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker.
But Holland said there was “no tension” between he and Frost, and that the only thing he cares about is the entire team getting better.
“We’re all here together,” he said. “Whoever Coach Johnson decides to start, that’s what he decides. But, as far as there being a nice rotation, that’s what I like because any time you’re playing 80 to 90 snaps a game your body is going to wear down. The rotation is going to be a huge help for us with all of the depth at linebacker, because now we’ll have two instead of three.”
Holland isn’t just playing behind Frost at the moment, either.
He is literally playing from behind after missing some practices and numerous meetings in the spring because of a class conflict.
But what he may have missed in the spring is balanced by the seasoning he’s had the last three years.
“I don’t necessarily feel mentally behind because I have some SEC experience playing in the past,” he said. “With the time during the summer I’ve been able to study and know the defense. I’m ready to go. It’s just about getting reps and making sure that I get to the position I want to be.”
Besides, with a new coaching staff, Holland noted “you have to prove yourself” more than once to show you”re worthy of playing time. Johnson, the man who will ultimately dictate how much Holland gets on the field this fall, knew it was “hard” for the Pelham, Ala., native to “no-show” for practices and meetings this spring, especially when trying to learn a new system.
College football can be cruel that way sometimes.
“Had he been in the same system going into his senior year after four years, I probably wouldn’t hardly rep him,” Johnson said. “Putting in a new system and a new defense, it wasn’t a good situation for him. He’s close to already graduating and he’s in his last year. It’s something that could not be moved. We had to leave it where it was. We practiced and met in the mornings. It was very unusual that he had that class conflict.”
Even if he was an unquestioned starter, however, Holland said he would still practice with the same intensity.
“Just because you have to be ready for the season and you’re coming off the summer ready to go,” he said. “As far as where I stand, everything is right where I want to be.”
And the place Holland wants the Tigers to be is in a bowl. Yes, the team is “excited to get started” and “ready to move on” from last season. Those mantras will be repeated to nigh infinity until Aug. 31 rolls around and Auburn tees it up against Washington State.
Holland said it should go without saying that winning championships — both of the SEC and BCS variety — is what the Tigers are striving to achieve in 2013. A bowl, however, is the “minimum” that would be acceptable for Holland to deem the season a successful one.
Good thing Holland believes the Tigers are primed to make a run to the postseason, then.
“From what I see, going off past years, this team is probably the closest we’ve been in a long time,” he said. “Bowl capability? There’s no doubt in my mind.”