Getting to know UCF strength coach Zach Duval
After the first practice on Friday, Scott Frost offered a few examples of gains the team made this summer.
The numbers were staggering.
On average, the team increased their squat max by 60 pounds with another 45 pounds on power clean. Body composition changed dramatically as players shed an average of four percent body fat. And those are just summer numbers, not including the initial improvements made during the early months of the year.
The man behind the turnaround is Zach Duval, hired by Frost last December to head UCF's strength and conditioning program.
Like Frost, Duval's roots are in Nebraska. Both are the sons of coaches. Frost's parents coached at the high school level, while Duval's father Rick was a member of Tom Osborne's first staff at NU.
While Frost was quarterbacking the Cornhuskers to a national championship, Duval was putting in work as a strength coach, first at the student level and then as a full-time staffer. He founded the Xplosive Edge performance center in 2002, a training facility that also developed computer software for strength coaches. The center remains in Omaha to this day, operated by his brother Gibbie.
Duval returned to the college ranks in 2008, rejoining the Nebraska staff, then took over the Creighton program for a year before moving on to Buffalo for a four-year stint. He had been in charge of Wyoming program for the past two years when he got the call from Frost to join him in Orlando.
UCFSports.com caught up with Duval after Saturday's practice.
First of all, I want to go back to the mid-1990s. You went to Nebraska and were involved in the strength program as a student, working with the football program and then Scott Frost came in around 1995, 1996? What are your memories of that era? You are from Nebraska, originally?
"My father was a football coach at Nebraska for Tom Osborne. The football coaches' kids were always at the football offices. I found the weight room and (Nebraska strength coach) Boyd Epley at age eight, somewhere around there. And right there and then, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have not deviated from that since then. That's the profound effect that room in there and Coach Epley had on me. So he took time, gave me a workout manual. Football didn't work out for me. I had an injury in the second game as a high school player in my senior year. I said I'm going to start working. Boyd gave me a shot. I worked as a student. Worked my way up and that's when I ran into Coach Frost. He was a player and I was the same age, but from a coaching standpoint. So he's playing and I'm coaching.
"Being a coach's kid is definitely an advantage. You grow up in the system. You understand what great leadership looks like. Not to be cliche or anything, but you just had this feeling about Scott. I had this feeling."
That was the Tommie Frazier era. When Scott came in, were there expectations that he would be the heir apparent?
"Yes. Phenomenal athlete. Great background. Good at everything. To boot, he had very great presence. You know those people. They demand respect just by their presence. People gravitate towards them. High achievers love hanging around with high achievers. Low achievers don't like hanging around with high achievers. Everyone around him was a high achiever. You knew he would be good in whatever he did. I just kind of watched him after he got into coaching. I said I want to coach with that guy someday if it worked out."
Did you guys keep in touch? You were one of the first coaches that was hired, coming down from Wyoming.
"We've stayed in contact because we've played them two or three times when we were at Wyoming. Then in some other places I was at. It wasn't an everyday deal. Obviously those bonds at Nebraska are very thick. I think it's just a mutual respect. I've always coached for a Nebraska coach, other than Coach (Jeff) Quinn at Buffalo and then I was at Wyoming with Craig Bohl who was a coach at Nebraska. Scott called and it was a no-brainer. Took me all of a nano-second."
I remember you were live tweeting on your drive down to Florida.
"It was me and my assistant, Andrew Strop. We loaded up the F-150 and beelined it here. Obviously coming from Wyoming to here, no-brainer. Beautiful weather, palm trees. I'm just like, 'This is awesome.'"
How did things change from a standpoint of what you do to get guys ready to play from a Wyoming to what Scott Frost wants? Obviously a lot of similarities to Oregon with speed and tempo. Is it different with the way you go about things? Have you talked to coaches at Oregon about things they do?
"I've actually had experience working with some no-huddle, fast-tempo offenses. That would be Brian Kelly through Jeff Quinn (at Buffalo). That's what offense they were. It wasn't as quick though. But it actually is kind of tailor-made, how we train scientifically really mirrors what they're trying to do on offense. Snapping the ball every 12 or 14 seconds. We train very high intensity and low rest. It's calculated. It's precise. They're in shape to be able to do that. Whether it's a slow-paced offense, a huddle offense or no-huddle offense, that's just a tweak scientifically with a work/rest ratio. Then intensity, duration and volume. Not too hard to make that switch.
"Always the issue is if you're going at a fast pace, what is the amount of lean muscle mass you're going to be able to retain? That's where a lot of our technology comes into play that we're ramping up with so we will be able to identify what that fine line is because obviously speed kills. But when you play some of those bigger teams, they have speed too and they're big. That's obviously what we're working towards is being able to notch where they were and add a little bit more power, strength and lean muscle mass to that equation."
Scott Frost talked a little bit yesterday about the strides made. 60 pound average in squat max, 45 in power clean, four percent body fat. From when you got here in January to where they were when they reported for camp a couple days ago, obviously things will be even better a year from now, but are you happy with how the guys responded to everything over the last seven months?
"I'm a purist. But I'm realistic. So obviously it's never good enough. As a coach's kid, you learn that. It's never good enough. There's always something you can do that's better. We had to establish a lot of relationships. That's always the deal. Players don't care how many national championship rings you have. They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. So that was No. 1."
Jordan Akins mentioned how you'd have Wednesday night cookouts at your house.
"Yeah, and to serve them. We talk about accountability. We talk about leadership. But until the players see what that looks like in all different environments. The best environment is my home where they can see how I interact, how I respect, how I treat my wife. I have five kids, so they get to watch that interaction. Then they can judge on their own. 'Is this the same guy that I see in the weight room? Well, yes he is. Okay. I can trust this guy. He's got my best interests at heart.' Once you have that established, everything else takes care of itself.
"The strength levels are off the chart. I mean we're breaking, not that I'm a big 'who squats the most' guy."
Right, usually the guy who squats or benches the most isn't always the best football player.
"Correct. My national championship rings don't say strength and conditioning. They say football. Now, it is a factor. These guys, they're breaking their own PRs every week. The PRs aren't the important part. It's them competing. Them buying in and putting the work in. That's the moral victory right there. It's got to keep getting better. The trust has to keep getting better, the communication. That's part of the deal. I've taken over programs before and it's a process. Scott's vision, his leadership, we're all in the right place."
How much did improved nutrition play a role in the improved strength numbers? It seems when you guys came in, the players were on their own, but now they have proper guidance. Did that tie in as well?
"Yeah, for sure. The comparison we use with the players is Indy Car. A Ferrari is a highly-tuned machine. It's meant to have high performance. Well, if I fill it up with 87 octane, you're not going to perform. Nutrition is definitely important, but with some of them we had to take the engine from a V-4 to a V-6, V-6 to V-8 and V-8 to V-12, then we had to do some gear changing. It was a total process.
"But for sure, you have to have fuel to make that happen. With that comes education. The best case scenario for me is I provide all the food, I hand it out, you eat it and you're a robot. But that's not how it works. When football ends, we have to educate them. I want them to be able to make the same decisions while they're in my presence as when they're out. On Saturday and Sunday during the summer, they have to choose what they want to eat. Well, you better educate them on that so the bottom doesn't fall out on the weekends. From what we saw with gains every Monday, they did a good job at that. When you lose, over a summer's period of time, three to four percent body fat on average, they're obviously making good choices. And that's just summer. We whittled off an even larger part during the winter. That's great. Now we have to keep adding lean muscle mass. It's not a complete picture yet. It's a work in progress."
I know Frost has spoken about how the entire team across the board made so many improvements that it was hard to pick out a few leading examples. I know it's hard to single someone out, but off the top of your head, are there are a few guys, maybe from January to where we are now, that you're really proud of the strides that they made?
"(Chequan) Burkett, the twins (Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin), Gibby (Kyle Gibson), (T.J.) Mutcherson, (Jamiyus) Pittman, A.J. Wooten, Taj McGowan. There's a lot of guys. It's across the board. They did a great job. It's definitely not me putting in the work. They're doing the work and they're seeing the benefits of the buy-in. They're the ones doing the work."
Do you guys test speed like you do with strength? Did you see gains in that area as well in terms of speed?
"We test in the winter and we test at the beginning of the summer. Obviously, you don't risk it right before camp. But you are seeing the power outputs, you're seeing their pro agilities and their 10-yard dashes which are measurements of power. At that point you're seeing if the strength and if the power in the weight room translated over. And the players speak for themselves."
So you're seeing the guys did get faster? That's what you need in this offense.
"Remarkably faster, remarkably more powerful, the ability to decelerate and accelerate. But I preface that with it's never good enough. We always have more work to do."
One thing I've seen you tweet a lot is "War Daddy Up." Where did that come from? It seems like been a motto or catchphrase.
"That's always been my motto. I don't even know where I got it from. It was probably early 90s. War Daddy Up encompasses everything. It's not just on the field. It's not just in the weight room. It's the choices we as men and women make on a daily basis. War Daddy is a guy that's in his fabric to do everything to the best of his ability. But he also brings others along with him. Whether it's a military equation or football or a life equation, that's to me is what a War Daddy is. Everything at 100 percent."
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