But for their beloved Bulldogs, and three unheralded coaches, it has already begun.
"We started last Wednesday, and I said, 'This is the second day of
2005 season football season,'" said Dave Van Halanger, Georgia's
strength coach. "The first day was when we whipped Wisconsin. We started
as champions of the Outback Bowl and we want to finish as champions of
the Rose Bowl."
The Rose Bowl is where the 2005 national championship will be decided.
It seems a long way away, but Georgia's strength coaches already have it
in sight every day. Van Halanger hands out a different T-shirt for the
team's offseason workouts every year. This year's reads: SEC Champions,
National Champions, Family.
"That says a lot," Van Halanger said. "We have to shape our
here, with leaders, with guys that will plug the gaps, with guys who
will do the work it takes."
Van Halanger, already a Hall of Famer in his profession, has two
full-time assistants, Keith Gray and Clay Walker. Both Gray and Walker
were hired as part of Jim Donnan's staff and then retained by Van
Gray is a former Virginia Tech linebacker who was a member of the
school's most elite strength club - Super Iron Hokie. A four-year
player, he never started, but he shaped himself into a contributor in
the weight room, he said.
"I got on the field as a player and made the travel squad and all
because of the work I did in the strength program," he said. "I wasn't
the best football player, but I worked my butt off, learned my football
stuff and was somebody the coaches could depend on. I thought, since
that's where I came from, that's where I'd like to be able to help
Gray worked as a graduate assistant at Southern Illinois and then as a
graduate assistant at Auburn before joining Georgia's staff in 1999. He
was promoted to assistant head strength coach in 2003.
Walker, an Abbeville native, was a three-year letterman at Wilcox
County High School in football and baseball. He came to Athens to play
football in 1999 but a car accident resulted in a cracked vertebrae and
the end of his football career.
"I never had thought about coaching," he said. "It never
had crossed my
mind, but I don't think I could have made a better choice for my life, I
really don't. I've learned a lot. I love my work."
After his injury, Walker worked as a student assistant as a position
coach and a strength coach. After turning down a spot as a graduate
assistant at Wake Forest, he was hired part-time by Van Halanger in
2001. He was promoted to a full-time position in 2003.
Georgia's three strength coaches spend about twice the time with the
players as head coach Mark Richt and the rest of the Bulldogs' on-field
assistants. The NCAA limits the time on-field coaches can spend with the
players, particularly in the offseason, but the strength coaches will be
with the players two hours a day, four days a week for the next seven
months, Gray estimated.
That doesn't include the time Gray and Walker spend working with
former Bulldogs who are in the NFL, players who need to meet specific
weight goals or supervising the team's year-round 5:45 a.m. discipline
"I think trust is built the more time you spend together, it's like
your own children, the more time you spend in an enriching environment,
the more trust is built," Van Halanger said. "There's a lot of trust
Georgia has two more weeks of lifting and running before it gets to its
famed mat drills. That will take up the month that leads into spring
practice. After spring ball, it's back to the weight room for summer
"So much of what we do isn't just how much they can lift," Gray
"If a guy can bench press 450 or 460 pounds it really doesn't matter.
Ten pounds one way or the other isn't a huge deal. We're not in here to
make them weight lifters. We could get all of them to squat 600 pounds
and bench 400 pounds, but it doesn't mean that they're going to be
"What we try to do is let them use this part of our program to get
better physically conditioned and mentally conditioned so that when they
go to practice, they can practice their skills as a football player
better and longer."
They'll do that in relative anonymity for the next right up until Sept.
3, when everybody else's season begins with a game against Boise State
in Sanford Stadium.
"I don't care how good the position coach is, if we don't do what
supposed to do, they're not going to perform on Saturdays," Walker said.
"I honestly believe if we don't do our job, then the rest does not