"It seems like we have real chemistry," said Van Halanger about this year's bunch of Dawgs. He added that the departure of big-name players like David Greene, David Pollack, Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown has made this team gel together. "They care about being good," Van Halanger said of the group.
"We want to get the season going because we've been going since June 1," said the strength and conditioning coach. The Bulldogs are eager to play this first game of the season – a difficult one against potent Boise State.
"Every one of our platforms has beat Boise – it's in our minds. That's the first roadblock to an undefeated season. They were 12-1, and I think it's going to be a war. The players, they watch the film and they say ‘Man, these guys are good.' You don't go 12-1 for nothing," said Van Halanger. "They are preparing right now for a four-quarter war."
The strength and conditioning coach spoke about many of the current players as well:
Van Halanger said Kregg Lumpkin, who returns this fall after suffering a torn ACL in last fall's camp, will be fully recovered. "He's 100%," said Van Halanger. "There's no doubt. He's a 222-pound great-looking tailback – with a big chest and big legs. I see him having a very good year. He's done everything we've asked him to do."
Van Halanger said the other tailbacks were going well also. He noted that Thomas Brown was having another solid summer workout season.
"Thomas Brown – I don't know if he's gotten bigger, but he's gotten stronger. He's special. He is a specimen that can do as much as you want him to. He squatted 550 pounds and we stopped him. I am not going to get a great tailback hurt. He doesn't want to stop because he can do 575, but to me let's go ahead and do 550 and call it a really good day. He is a special young man.," Van Halanger said.
Van Halanger was eager to talk about the progress of Georgia's linebackers, who will be guided by newcomer John Jancek.
"Danny Verdun-Wheeler is a warrior, man. If anyone thinks Danny is not a warrior – he is a fighting 240-pound stallion. He can go all day, and he's very, very smart. Brandon Miller looks good – he's about 240 pounds. He's exactly where he wants to be and where he needs to be. With those two you've got two 240-pound linebackers that can run. You've got Dannell Ellerbe who's got himself up to 228, and he can fly. You've got Jarvis Jackson in there at about 225 and he can run. You've got Tony Taylor in the best shape of his life," he said.
One former linebacker is growing into his new position at defensive end.
"Marcus Howard has gotten himself up to about 220 or 225 – he looks great. He is built like anything. I always tell him: ‘Marcus – I would love to just have your body for one day. Just one day to walk into the weight room looking like that.' Howard is a physical specimen," said Van Halanger.
Van Halanger went on to talk about one player that has bettered himself over the last few years in Athens.
"Dennis Roland… it shows about fight and determination; if you have a heart you can be great. Dennis didn't have great strength; he couldn't run. But now he's a 320-pound guy that the NFL is going to take in the Draft next year. He is going to have a great year for Georgia, and he works so hard. He does not back down from anything," he said.
Van Halanger added: "Young kids have to know that if I'm big, I'm not going to be gifted to be able to run 4.5s. If I am big, and I'll be a little tough like Dennis is, and I'll work like crazy – Dennis will be a three-year starter for the University of Georgia – Are you kidding me? To be a three-year starter; that is an awesome thing for a young man that had limited ability, but said: ‘You know what… that limited ability is not going to stop me because I am going to work that much harder than everyone else.' And he has."
Another senior has taken his work to another level according to Van Halanger. "I like what Greg Blue has done with his body and his attitude with the way he has worked. He is a 220-pound – I have to a green jersey (non-contact) in the weight room because I am afraid he's going to think its live one time, and crack me – you know what I mean? So I wear a green jersey to show him that it's non-contact. The guy is a – he just looks – wow."
Another secondary Bulldog, this time not a senior, was also addressed by Van Halanger. "Kelin Johnson is a worker. He is a very fiery guy. He's done a very good job for us. He is a very good football player for us, and I think he's had some real progress for a young guy. I think he is going to have a really good season this year because he's in shape and he wants it real bad," he said.
But Van Halanger's sharpest, and most encouraging praise, was for Georgia's quarterback D.J. Shockley. "I like our quarterback. I mean Shockley benched 225 pounds 22 times and squatted 500 pounds – are you kidding me? – That's our quarterback. He had a vertical of 40 inches last year, so he might get 42 this year."
When asked about Shockley's critics Van Halanger replied: "I don't think he cares about them." According to Van Halanger, Shockley is staying focused this summer.
"When I left the building there he goes with a bag of balls and about 50 guys following him because they are going out to do pass skeleton. Now after working an hour in the weight room and an hour on the field, now they are going out to work and hour on their own because they want to be great. Shockley is leading that thing. It does not matter what people around the country say; it's about what he feels, what he thinks and all of that is very positive and good," Van Halanger said.
With all of that in mind, Van Halanger summed up his enthusiasm about his job and the players that surround him.
"I am a very fortunate guy to be able to train players like I have. I have very good players that work very hard, and enjoy their time together. I am up every morning at 5:15 AM and I am fired up about coming to work, Dean, because I am coming to work at Georgia and working with great players that do great things," he concluded.