Dwight Galt, the boss of Penn State’s offseason, held a conditioning session at 7 a.m. Friday, well before players ran shuttle drills at the 17th annual Lift for Life. Guys arrived at 6:15 for stretching and “prehab,” which Galt noted with pride.
“We really work hard at the culture part of it,” Galt said. “No matter who’s here, there’s one way to do it.”
As head of Penn State’s performance enhancement program, Galt and his staff are the primary conduits to the summer program. NCAA rules limit coaches’ offseason contact with players, and the recruiting schedule now sends most coaches on vacation in July. As a result, strength coaches act as summer shepherds.
Galt has been with Franklin for more than 15 years at Maryland, Vanderbilt and Penn State. Franklin has said repeatedly that he considers his strength staff to be the best in America, one whose methods have produced tangible results at recent NFL combines.
The results continue. Following Lift for Life, Galt said that 93 players had passed their conditioning tests, a significant number for mid-July. Galt also explained his role when the coaches aren’t around (most are on vacation until their staff retreat later this month).
“The thing is that [Franklin] has some very specific ways that he thinks this program should run, and I believe very strongly in that and believe very strongly in his philosophy,” Galt said. "So I want to make sure that when he’s not here, this thing is being run the way he has it set up to run."
Galt also dished on gains made by some veterans and newcomers. Here’s a look.
Jahan Dotson’s "making progress:" Franklin has said that the next step for receiver Jahan Dotson (Nazareth High) is “building a Big Ten body,” which the sophomore continues to do.
Dotson has developed a much stronger upper body (he did 10 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press Friday) and increased his weight to 175 pounds without losing speed. Galt added that Dotson is leaner with a lower bodyfat percentage despite entering the program as slender as he was.
“We’re making progress with him," Galt said. “He’s starting to get it and understand what it takes to be a really elite receiver.”
Similarly, fellow receiver KJ Hamler is “ecstatic” at getting to 178 pounds, almost 20 more than he weighed as a freshman. But Galt cautioned the speedy redshirt sophomore that his weight-gaining days are over.
“I want him to keep that 4.2 speed,” Galt said. “You don’t want him to get so big that we have a problem with slowing down. I think Jahan is the same way. I don’t want to do anything to negate his speed.”
The "stud:" Safety Jaquan Brisker, who transferred from Lackawanna College in Scranton, launched a transformation since arriving at Penn State. Galt said that Brisker has gained 15 pounds in nine weeks, going from 198 to 213, as he pushes to challenge for a starting spot in the secondary.
“Brisker’s a stud," Galt said. “… He’s a big, strong, fast, athletic safety. He’ll give us great depth at safety.”
The left tackle: Redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker, who played in four games last season, is aligned to take over at left tackle. He’s a confident player who says he’s ready to start.
Galt said that Walker had some growing pains returning to the weight room but was in form by week 3. Walker has gained nearly 30 pounds (he’s at 320) since arriving on campus.
“He’s so developed, and his movement is so good,” Galt said. “We’re really pleased with where he is. He’s going to be a big, strong agile left tackle for us and he’s in great shape right now. We really hope he can do some big things for us.”
Noteworthy: Sophomore linebacker Jesse Luketa has made “some of the greatest improvements I’ve seen in an athlete,” Galt said. Luketa increased his bench-press best from 245 pounds to 360 and lowered his 40-yard-dash time from 4.92 seconds to 4.68.
Senior linebacker Cam Brown is the team’s “alpha male,” Galt said. He continues to get bigger, and Galt expects him to play at 235 pounds this season. That’s quite a difference from his freshman year, when Brown was 6-5, 197 pounds.
Lineman Anthony Whigan, who transferred with Brisker from Lackawanna, is the “best-looking 309-pound man I’ve seen in my life,” Galt said. Whigan will add important line depth following the early departures of starters Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates.
A newcomer to watch? How about receiver Weston Carr, who transferred from Division II Azusa Pacific. Carr, a graduate student, arrived June 1 as a “seasoned vet" ready to work.
“He’s an experienced guy, he’s very professional, very methodical, really good worker, very smooth,” Galt said. “I really like everything about him. He’s going to be a good addition to or program."