Arizona safety Will Parks is adding a new wrinkle to a laborious training regimen designed to prepare his body for the 2015 season: boxing.
Parks enters the ring multiple times weekly, muscling through six different sets of punch combinations as he strives to improve his balance, timing and power as a defensive back.
"Theres's a one-two jab, a punch, a hook and a slip right. Then I move to my left, come back to a left-handed jab and a body blow," he explains. "Boxing is just so much faster than anything else. So the footwork I develop there makes my football job so much easier."
So while Saturday's Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout commanded the casual sporting world's attention, it piqued Parks' interest on a more technical level.
"I thought it was a great defensive fight," he says. "I thought Floyd did a wonderful job controlling it."
For Parks, taking time to watch and learn from the titanic clash offered a brief respite from his long sessions in the weight room, sprints in the searing desert heat, and training in the ring -- a special form of cross-training that he initially adopted in the eighth grade.
As we continue our look at the often-underappreciated physical offseason drudgery of Pac-12 football players, Parks' work at Arizona stands out -- not just because of his unique use of boxing as a mode of physical conditioning, but also because of the way that he has embraced the training pain that's seen as a toll necessary for success.
It may take a machine to execute the Wildcats' back-breaking summer conditioning regimen and simultaneously enjoy it, but that's Parks' goal for himself and for his teammates.
"We must love this summer, because we must have a great season this year," he says.
The first part of that equation is easier said than done. Though Parks currently finds some days in which he can pack in six hours of discretionary workout time, the crucible still looms ahead. That'll come in June and July, when Arizona strength and conditioning coach Chris Allen leads players through heavy weightlifting sessions -- think six sets of squats at 330 pounds and up -- right before runs in the desert sun.
"It's about 110 degrees when we're out there running at 2 p.m.," Parks says. "Two 400-meter runs, 10 110-yard dashes, six 40-yard sprints. Oh my god, I don't even know how to explain it. It's a mindset building. It's just work that we have to love."
Hydration and nutrition are, of course, vital for sustenance.
"Chick-Fil-A does the job," Parks laughs. "It's a blessing to have one here on campus. And we need a lot of chicken, veggies, water, and Powerade."
Parks will enter the brunt of summer conditioning with strong positive momentum. He reports that his maximum bench press weight is up more than 25 pounds to 345, and he's also squatting a personal record 450 pounds. Four months still remain before the season opener, so that improvement serves as fuel for Parks. The success of his 2014 campaign, which featured career-highs in stops (81), tackles for loss (13) and pass-break ups (13) also stokes the offseason fire.
It's team success that acts as the biggest motivator, though, and that's where Arizona's breakthrough 2014 Pac-12 South championship run comes into play. The Wildcats look at last season as proof that their annual summer trip to conditioning hell is worth it.
"There’s no way you can go through what we do in June and July and not have a great season," Parks says.
Still, he emphasizes that the price of success is directly correlated to the rise in expectations, and those have skyrocketed on the heels of Arizona's 10-win campaign.
"This offseason needs to be the most productive one we've ever had," Parks says. “Last year, we were knocking on doors. This year, we have to kick them down.”
Or, if it is indeed time to see that sweat in the boxing ring pay further dividends on the football field, punch them open.