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In the Big 12, foundations for the future are laid during summer workouts

Summer time is full of anticipation, watch lists and preseason prognostications for college football fans.

For college football players, it builds the foundation for the upcoming season. Summer workouts are designed to test players in every way from their sheer physical ability and weightlifting prowess to their focus and mental approach.

Often the assumption is made that summer workouts are designed to prepare a football team for the season. Instead, they're more focused on preparing the roster for preseason camp.

"Our job in the summer, as much as anything, is to prepare these guys for camp," said Rudy Wade, Iowa State's strength and conditioning director. "I'm not trying to prepare them for Game 1 because Game 1 comes one month after camp starts."

A typical day includes early morning conditioning and/or weightlifting, summer classes during the day, occasional afternoon meetings with coaches, volunteer skill work on the field in the evening along with provided meals.

"They have a lot to do," said Je'Ney Jackson, Kansas' head of strength and conditioning. "It's obviously less than the season but still pretty busy. It's like they say, idle hands are the devil's work. We like to keep them active, keep them in the routine."

Some aspects of the daily schedule can be required, like meals, while others, like seven-on-seven workouts and other on-field work, are voluntary and organized by the leaders on the squad. While the morning conditioning prepares players for the rigors of preseason camp and Big 12 football, the entire process helps create a team in an organic way as workouts tend to be the time when real leaders for the upcoming season emerge.

"That is everything," Jackson said. "That's the biggest thing we're trying to do this summer is get those leaders, then I don't have to say finish through the line, it polices itself. And that's where we're getting to now, where (if) someone is below our standard I don't have to say anything. We do stuff to make sure they're accountable to their teammates, we make sure they know that from the jump."

Those leaders are often the guys who organize the voluntary workouts and hold the team accountable in ways the coaches cannot.

"It's extremely important," said Wade, who has been a strength coach for 15 years and joined the Cyclones alongside new head coach Matt Campbell last December. "You have to cultivate that, you have to allow guys to do that. That's something with us, year 1, we're trying to grasp who those guys are."

A successful summer includes a clear pecking order being developed. Leaders are established and, in the best case scenario, followers fall in line right behind the leaders.

"Being a follower typically has a negative connotation but really a great leader needs great followers and guys have to understand they aren't the leader, this guy is," Wade said. "Every team is different. If you don't have that one or two great leaders its kind of a team effort. Being a good follower is as important as having a good leader."

Realistically, the mental battle is tougher than the physical one during summer workouts. It is a separator of sorts and often a predictor of future success on the field, particularly in challenging situations.

"We're trying to prepare them for a grueling camp and make it hard," Wade said. "Because if a guy is going to quit on you in conditioning, he's going to quit on you during a game too. So we want to know that ahead of time."

While most college students are adding experience and an internship to their resumes', Big 12 players are waking up at dawn before spending the entire day trying to create a platform upon which a successful season can be built.

"For every strength coach across the country this is the most important time of year," Jackson said. "You're preparing the team so they're ready to go, you want them to have almost a combat mindset so we attack training camp and are ready to go. It has to be tireless work for these eight weeks."