RCW: Gaining Strength
David Beaty is working to craft a dynasty.
He’ll be the first to admit Kansas football is nowhere near that distinction yet, but every awe-inspiring wonder of the world built by man has started at the same place. The bottom.
Ask any builder what the most pivotal component of a structure is. If they don’t tell you it’s the foundation, occupy a building of theirs at your own risk.
Laying the correct infrastructure is paramount to a lasting edifice, but not just anyone can do it. Those who opt for the easy way out or a quick-fix quickly regret it when the wolf comes growling at the door. You need someone who is courageous enough to undertake such a daunting task, but who is also experienced enough to know the ins and outs of quality, sturdy work.
When it’s done, a good foundation is seldom noticed. Everyone’s eyes go straight to the top of a building for a spectacular sense of accomplishment, yet nobody looks at the base to see how the breathtaking architecture has withstood so many trials and tribulations.
When Beaty was first hired in December of 2014 the first person he brought onto his staff to shape the baseline culture brick-by-brick and kid-by-kid was the most crucial.
“The most important hire I’ll make here is the leader of our strength and conditioning program,” Beaty said at his introductory news conference. “That program is going to be based on three very simple things: Hard work, discipline and accountability, every day. Every day, every way.”
When Beaty arrived the numbers in the weight room read as follows:
Three … Jayhawks ran a 40-yard sprint in under 4.5 seconds.
Eight … Jayhawks power cleaned 300 or more pounds.
20 … Jayhawks bench pressed 300 or more pounds.
Much like the concrete and rebar silently holding up any of humanity’s greatest achievements, a college football team’s strength and conditioning staff is constantly working to keep the leaks from springing and cracks from surfacing during 12 autumn-Saturday storms.
The man Beaty brought on board to head up the program’s most grueling job of renovating the mold of the team was none other than a man who helped Kansas football pour the footing to its most successful era in the mid-2000s.
A man Beaty spent time trying to out scheme, out coach and out compete every day in practice for two years in 2008 and 2009.
And the same man Beaty can thank for introducing him to Kansas.
Je’Ney Jackson wasn’t on the return trip from Lincoln, Nebraska to Bloomington, Indiana with the Indiana men’s basketball team on New Year’s Eve in 2014.
Immediately after the game ended, the Hoosiers’ strength and conditioning coach followed through with one of the most difficult decisions of his life and drove south into the night toward Lawrence.
Jackson had planned to retire at Indiana. His track record spoke for itself. The Hoosiers were year-in and year-out one of the physically toughest teams in college basketball and were annual contenders in the Big Ten Conference.
The mentality he and head coach Tom Crean developed into Indiana basketball wasn’t one of flash and style. The regiment was one that wouldn’t crumble under stress and fatigue. Jackson, being a football thoroughbred, implemented a gridiron weight and conditioning routine to help Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh earn top-10 draft honors as professional basketball players.
Jackson is easy to trust among coaches and players alike – that’s why his system works. He exudes sincerity and loyalty when accepting whatever challenge is thrown his way to make the athletes he works with better. Crean trusting him to reinvent Indiana basketball’s strength and conditioning is what made the decision to leave so tough.
“The most important hire I’ll make here is the leader of our strength and conditioning program. That program is going to be based on three very simple things: Hard work, discipline and accountability, every day. Every day, every way.”
– David Beaty
Jackson admitted he wouldn’t have made the job change for anyone else, but his trust in Beaty and Beaty’s trust in Jackson’s methods to rebuild Kansas football meant too much.
“Having Coach Beaty be the coach here, there’s no way that I could turn down one of my very best friends,” Jackson said. “So, we are here.”
After the first workout with Jackson in the winter of 2015, the Jayhawks could hardly waddle their way up Mt. Oread to go to class. The numbers in the weight room didn’t resemble a Big 12 Conference football team, instead a cracking foundation in need of a complete rebuild.
So, Jackson stayed tried and true to his methods of heavy weight, grueling conditioning and unrelenting support to tirelessly work at reshaping and refining the bodies of the Jayhawks.
“One thing our guys realize is we have to get better,” Jackson said. “I keep talking to them about getting better. You have to be diligent and you can’t get tired of telling them to do it again, and again, and again until we get it right, until we’re doing it at the speed we need to do it.”
It is important for Beaty and Jackson to have an underlying trust. The plan can’t work if they didn’t fully believe in each other’s methods to build a powerhouse.
“I am an extenuation of the head coach,” Jackson said. “When I’m training those guys in the summer I’m trying to say everything I think he would say, in the way I think he would say it. That way when he gets the team back they get the same thing over, and over, and over and there’s no change. I think in that respect, I’m just trying to do what I know he wants to be done.”
Jackson and Beaty’s friendship began in the state of Texas all the way back to when the two tireless workers became recruiting rivals.
Fresh from the program’s first major bowl victory in the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl, Jackson, KU’s then-cornerbacks coach, and head coach Mark Mangino were out scouring the country for potential Jayhawks.
Mangino was looking to fill an assistant coaching spot to mentor the team’s wide receivers when Jackson suggested his boss look into hiring a workhorse recruiter he had encountered on several occasions trying to sway prospects away from Kansas.
“I said, ‘Hey Coach. Have you heard of this David Beaty guy?'” Jackson recalled nearly a decade later. “Coach Mangino said, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard his name from several people, but tell me about him.'”
Jackson and his future boss first met inside Plano High School when they just so happened to be recruiting a running back named Rex Burkhead. Beaty was persuading the running back to Rice, Jackson of course to Kansas.
“Coach Beaty and I just started talking and for whatever reason we really hit it off,” Jackson said. “We have really similar personalities and are both really aggressive people. We are both people who like to talk to people. We hit it off really well and kept in touch.”
Jackson helped sell Mangino on hiring Beaty to coach the team’s wide receivers and several months later the two were going head-to-head daily in practice. Two ultra competitors who will do whatever it takes to win – and whatever else it takes to sustain that edge – were in a constant clash every time receivers and corners would face off.
“There’d be times, not that we were going to fight, but he and I would just be more competitive with each other than the players were,” Jackson laughed and said. “That only made our players be more competitive. There was a lot of trash talking, I remember yelling that I would go out there and cover Beaty’s best receiver right then.”
Despite being in his 30s, Jackson likely could have gone out and covered two of KU’s all-time great receivers in Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier.
The microscopic town of Guernsey, Wyoming lays claim to Kansas football’s strength and conditioning coach. The town itself sits upon the Oregon Trail and to this day instills the same hardy, conquer-all attitude in its residents that the pioneers who crossed the brutal terrain in search of a better life endured.
Jackson excelled both as a student and athlete at Guernsey-Sunrise High School in the early 1990s. He earned 12 varsity letters in basketball, football and track. Football was his main attraction as the Casper Star-Tribune named him the Super 25 Offensive Player of the Year in 1992.
The University of Wyoming football program came calling next and as a Cowboy Jackson earned All-Western Athletic Conference honors as a senior cornerback. The accomplishment he is most proud of isn’t something he did on the field. But the strain of being a college football player is enough, but to graduate with a degree in biology is another extreme that came easy for Jackson due to his upbringing of always accepting a challenge.
“I just remember my academic advisors when I got there were trying to put me in some easy classes,” Jackson said. “I told them I wasn’t taking those classes. So I took chemistry, biology and psychology my first semester of college and I did great.”
He originally intended on becoming a doctor after graduation and never planned on staying in athletics. However, when the Wyoming football coaching staff offered Jackson a job as a strength and conditioning assistant in 1999, he couldn’t turn it down.
His role quickly took off after that due to his extensive knowledge of football and background with exercise science thanks to his degree. One aspect of strength and conditioning Jackson brought and continues to utilize is his implementation of positional specific drills into every day workouts.
Those footwork drills are crucial to helping a football player refine their muscle memory during the summer months when their position coaches are forbidden from interaction.
“We do a lot of agility stuff and I think that’s where I differ from a lot of strength coaches,” Jackson said. “Our stuff is going to be based on what they do on gameday. What they do every day in practice. All of the little things that kind of are untouched for those months in the summer, they are still getting those coaching tips from my staff and me.”
As a developing professional in college football, Jackson was hired away from Wyoming by Kansas to be a strength and conditioning assistant in 2005 – the same time the footing was being established for the winningest class in KU football history.
The signs were evident for Jackson and the rest of the coaching staff to see the writing on the wall that the program was on an upward trend. By the time 2007 rolled around and the locker room was led by greats like Aqib Talib, Todd Reesing, Brandon McAnderson, James McClinton, Derek Fine, Anthony Collins, Darrell Stuckey and more Jackson accepted the challenge to coach the cornerbacks for the record breaking 12-1 season.
“You could see in the offseason how our guys came together that year,” Jackson said. “The togetherness of that team was unbelievable.”
The underdog mentality and business-like approach of that ultra-competitive team showed Jackson exactly what he needed to engrain in the Jayhawks under his command in the weight room starting in 2015.
During the summer of 2016, coming off of a dissatisfying regular season, Jackson made two promises to the Jayhawks he hoped would help them improve for the second year under Beaty.
“In the summer, I said this has to be the best summer these kids have had in their lives,” Jackson said. “We have to hold them to that standard. In that respect, yeah, I feel pressure to make these guys better and give them everything you have to make them be as good as they can possibly be.”
Second, Jackson assembled a staff he considers second-to-none. Ervin Young, Tyler Hill, Dexton Fields and Patrick Edwards. Each bring something different to the table.
Young is the one to throw 500 pounds on a rack without warming up and rep it several times just to show the team not to back down from a challenge. Hill is a constant motivator and a favorite among the players. Fields was a part of the winningest class in Kansas football history, while Edwards ended his career at Houston with 4,501 receiving yards.
“It’s crazy how good I feel my staff is,” Jackson said. “It just brings such a great dynamic to the staff. I’m fortunate to have those guys on my staff. They work their tails off. They do anything – anything you ask them to do, it’s done just like that. They make me look good.”
With the key additions to his staff, just as Jackson had hoped, his philosophy of being something more than a strength coach to the players had paid off as the Jayhawks kept showing up day after day in the summer, ready to go through the grinder again in the weight room.
“In the summer, I said this has to be the best summer these kids have had in their lives. We have to hold them to that standard. In that respect, yeah, I feel pressure to make these guys better and give them everything you have to make them be as good as they can possibly be.”
– Je’Ney Jackson
“When kids believe in you and believe that you care about them they’ll do anything in the world for you,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to coach someone else’s kids in a way I don’t want my kids coached. Yeah, there’s times I’m going to be up their butt and there’s times I’m going to shame them into doing something or shame them into looking at themselves in a different way. The greatest part is they also know they can come in my office all the time or they come talk to me about – you can’t imagine the things they bring to me. A lot of times I get a call about something way before the position coaches will because they’re with me so much and they feel more comfortable with me.”
Arriving to Kansas around the same time Jackson did in early 2015, now a senior offensive lineman, D’Andre Banks looks completely different than he did when he first arrived on campus.
Banks has lost 30 pounds from the time he walked through the doors of the Anderson Family Football Complex and his maxes have improved by 60 pounds, all thanks to Jackson’s intense workouts.
“He pushes us hard every day,” Banks said. “Every day we are working and when we are working that hard every day we eventually will get better and when it finally shows up on the field we’ll know it was worth it.”
It’s a slow and painful process – building something that stands the test of time.
Although wins are the pedestal to a program’s success, each victory has to be built on something. Small gains made every single day comprise the sign that the program is on the correct track.
“These kids have been together for a year to a year and a half,” Jackson explained. “They understand what we want and our work ethic. They understand that it’s going to be their togetherness that gets us out of this hole. We’re already better. We never cheered for each other like this last year. Those are the things that encourage you that okay, we’re on the right track.”
If the evidence isn’t in the team’s morale, the proof is in the tangible numbers. Even though these numbers don’t equate to positive gains in the win-loss column, they’re a large step in the right direction.
In a year and a half under Jackson’s tutelage Kansas football has molded …
Three … 34 … Jayhawks who run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds or faster.
Eight … 31 … Jayhawks who power clean 300 or more pounds.
20 … 59 … Jayhawks who can bench press 300 or more pounds.
And one impermeable foundation.
As Seen on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel’s Jayhawk Insider