FSU Strength and Conditioning coach Josh Storms is looking forward to a traditional off-season.
Florida State is entering its second year under the leadership of Mike Norvell and his staff, which includes strength and conditioning coach Josh Storms. Year 1 was anything but normal for both coaches due to Covid-19, which halted all organized football activities on March 12, 2020. That stoppage, which prevented team activities through the start of an extended fall camp, included ending the spring practice period after just three days and eliminated Norvell and Storms’ traditional off-season strength and conditioning program.
That five-month period of inactivity certainly had an affect on the team’s preparation for last season, and Storms and his staff had to try to overcome and work through and around the issues brought about by Covid-19.
“Ultimately, the biggest challenge of that, the biggest thing we missed out on, was just the opportunity to be with our guys every day,” said Storms.
“So much of what we do in our program here is relationship-based,” the former Memphis strength and conditioning coach said. “You start and then lose the opportunity to build that relationship face to face and so it takes time on the back end. By the end of quarantine, when we got back together, we’d actually been away from our guys in quarantine for longer than we had been with our guys when we got here in January leading up to quarantine.”
The time lapse was almost like starting over.
“It made it pretty difficult in year 1 because the guys are still getting to know us, we’re getting to know them,” Storms said. “It really drastically changed the dynamic of that relationship. It goes from seeing guys every day in the hallway or in the weight room working, straining and seeing the smile on your face or on their face and be able to share stuff that comes up. (It was) limited to me calling them on the phone or me trying to get them on Zoom. It changes a lot.”
It also impacted Norvell and Storms’ ability to instill their standards for the off-season and culture of the program as they normally would have.
“That’s one of the biggest things we missed out on during that (quarantine) was the ability to build the culture, build the team dynamic,” Storms said. “It’s pretty hard to put guys in leadership roles and get them leadership reps when they’re separate and apart from each other for that long.”
Of course, Covid-19 impacted every program’s ability to have a traditional off-season but it was particularly unique for a program in its first days under a new staff.
“That’s where the difficulty lies. If we had been here for two, three, four-plus years, we would know those kids well,” Storms continued. “You would’ve built a lot of equity into your relationship at that point. They know you, they know your character, they know what you’re all about. They very much understand the expectation of the program and your expectation of their work.”
Storms’ staff didn’t have four years or even two years.
“We’d been with our guys for 11 weeks total,” he said. “You haven’t had the luxury of having time to build that equity, the relationship, at that point. So now you take a group of guys you don’t know very well yet and on their end you take a group of coaches that they don’t know very well yet and you’re just kind of starting to figure out, like forming opinions of who people are and what their character is and how they’re wired as a man. And before you are able to fully develop those opinions, and those thoughts on people, you’re apart.”
Storms said it completely changed how those opinions had to be formed in a way he’d never experienced.
“We were doing it via phone and over a screen and by text,” he said. “We all know that’s not how firm, long-lasting, strong relationships are formed. They’re formed by a common bond and common work and common goals, and we really missed out on that. So coming back together, in a lot of ways, I don’t want to say we’re starting over, but in a lot of ways, you are somewhat starting over, re-establishing those relationships, re-establishing that standard.”
Storms doesn’t want to sound like he is making excuses for the lack of results on the field in 2020 but he does believe missing last year’s off-season made it more difficult for he and Norvell to establish standards for the program and that stunted the team’s maturation in mental and physical toughness. Norvell questioned the mental and physical toughness about two weeks into the season, concerns that would have been addressed prior to fall camp with the benefit of the traditional off-season.
“I think it’s immeasurable,” said Storms, when asked how no 2020 off-season program impacted 2020’s on-field performance. “You go back to the beginning of the time away, and the first thing we lost was spring ball. Spring ball is when the new guys are learning the offense, they’re learning the defense. Classroom learning is a lot different than learning on the grass. And to be honest, the way most athletes’ minds work is you learn by doing, you learn by executing, you learn in action, in movement. All that learning had to be classroom learning. Well, football is not played in the classroom. It’s much harder. You can talk about that stuff all you want, but until you go out there and buzz your feet, fill a gap, make contact, those things, it all sounds good until you go out there. It’s like the Mike Tyson quote, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ Well, you can plan all you want, you got to go out and learn how to throw and take the punches too.”
Storms said that process didn’t start until August camp.
“We were allowed walk-throughs. But once again, football is not a walk-through sport,” Storms said. “So you’re getting our first taste of that when camp started. Early in the season (became) the infancy of the learning process, of learning how we play, how we practice. And I’m not even talking about the tactical aspect of knowing the ins and outs of the offense, of knowing every call on defense, I’m not even talking about that. I’m just talking about the day to day of how we work, how we practice, how your coach is actually going to coach you because we all know, your coach is very, very different in a classroom setting than he is when he’s got that whistle around his neck on the field.”
In reality, the learning didn’t begin until after the season started in live scrimmages against opponents with the scoreboard on.
“Early in the year, it’s guys truly just trying to figure out how we do it,” Storms said. “Football is building a culture and a program (where) you need the time and you need the reps. The (players) need the experience. We (coaches) need the experience with them to find out what works best for them. We’re still learning personnel, they’re still learning us. It was very, very early on in the process. But the fact of the matter is the season started and you’re out there live and the games count. And so there’s going to be bumps in the road, but it’s essentially on-the-job training at that point.”
With 2020 behind him, Storms is hopeful for a normal off-season and is excited to be back to being hands-on and in-person.
“The biggest excitement going into this offseason is the hope of having a full offseason, of keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t have another shutdown,” said Storms. “Looking down the pipe, ‘Ok, hopefully we’re gonna have a full year going all the way into camp. How much can we accomplish in this period of time?”
The coaches did learn about the players coming back, which gives them a leg up.
“What we have is a group of guys here that wants this, that’s eager to improve, that’s eager to be better, to raise the standard,” Storms said. “It’s exciting. If you have a group that has displayed a good amount of eagerness, our job is to teach them the away. That’s what we got shorted on last year; the time to teach them the way. We’re trying to do some things here that haven’t been done, or haven’t been done in a while, and trying to show these guys our standard, something that’s proven, that works. It’s a pretty enjoyable group of guys to work with, there’s no limitations on what these guys can accomplish here.”
What areas does Storms think the team needs to improve heading into the off-season?
“Needing to improve in the physical development in the size, strength, power, agility, speed, all the different areas of the things that we’re charged with developing,” Storms said. “It’s got nothing to do with anybody that came before you, right? You’re going to ask different things of the guys than what would have been asked of them in the past. That’s the biggest thing we needed to do, being the strength coach and being charged with the physical development of the team, to me that’s always going to be the biggest thing.”
Storms plans to do that in-part by establishing the standards and expectations he didn’t get a chance to fully implement in-person this past off-season.
“And so starting from square one and teaching our guys to train and teaching our guys to train our way with the consistency and effort and intensity that it takes to maximize your potential, to give yourself an opportunity to be great,” said Storms. “Not just to improve, but to be great. And so now, (we’re) looking to have the chance to continue that process, because we’ve made good ground. But it’s one of those things, you need the time to put the work in. The physical change and physical development, developing strength is a process of years, not hours or days. … It takes consistent effort over time. Now we’re looking at an opportunity now, hopefully going into this year, when we’re gonna have what we did not have in full last year. We did everything we could do to maximize what last year was and try to do to make the best out of that situation. I feel like in a lot of areas we did a very good job with that, but there’s no substitute for time and consistency.”