Under anything resembling normal circumstances, Luke Gifford would be on his way back to Dallas to get started on a busy spring.
The Cowboys were set to start their offseason program April 6 — earlier than many NFL teams because they have a new head coach — and Gifford, a promising second-year linebacker, would be right in the middle of it.
In Lincoln, Husker sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer would be halfway through spring ball with Nebraska. Also a second-year player in his program — and, like Gifford, a city high school graduate — Reimer would be nearly halfway through spring ball and trying to crack Barrett Ruud’s inside linebacker rotation.
Instead, of course, that is not nearly the situation either finds himself in. Gifford, Reimer and several others are instead training with Chris Slatt, the former Nebraska track coach who now runs a speed training facility in town and is keeping busy training a group of football players during a prolonged period of no football.
“We’ve been pretty (much) on lockdown trying to be safe and clean and everything and not being too good of bros when we’re around each other,” said Gifford, who has been working out with fellow former Huskers such as Nate Gerry, Brandon Reilly, Cethan Carter, Josh Banderas and Jerald Foster.
Working with Slatt was always part of the plan for Gifford. It was just supposed to be ending at this point. Now, instead of reporting for OTAs or minicamps in the coming weeks, he and others don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.
With the caveat that there are much bigger problems facing many people, that degree of uncertainty makes it tough for athletes to know how to train.
“Usually you count back from when OTAs start or camp’s going to start or spring ball’s going to start, so your training’s built to be the most fit, sharpest, strongest, explosive, flexible for that start date,” Slatt explained. “We’re sticking to the plan that we had with the guys to get ready for OTAs, which will end April 1. Then we’re just going to reevaluate and we’ll probably just go back into base again and train for four more weeks, reevaluate again and see where we’re at, go back to base.
“You just don’t know when you need to be ready.”
Added Gifford, “(The Cowboys have) updated us and given us stuff to do, but when you don’t really know the end date or when you’re going to be starting up again, that makes things a lot harder.”
Same goes for a college player such as Reimer, who went back to Kansas for a week after NU shut down to see family before returning to Lincoln to work with Slatt. The North Star graduate and Husker walk-on turned heads in his first year on campus, becoming one of just four freshmen (and the only walk-on) to forgo a redshirt season. He appeared in 10 games, mostly on special teams and some reserve work at linebacker, and is already thought highly of within the program.
@Ldreimer2 ☠️ pic.twitter.com/Z2qX2Ii9Ms— christopher slatt (@SlattSpeed626) March 26, 2020
For now, Slatt said the goal is to just keep Reimer as primed as possible.
“Luke’s always in great shape. We’re just trying to maintain his weight, keep him around that 215-, 217-pound range, maybe put a little bit more size on him going in, whenever that time comes,” he said. “But he’s in great shape, explosive and he’s in the hands in the best strength coach in the country. (NU strength and conditioning coach Zach) Duval is amazing. All those guys, when they come back, are just so explosive.”
Nebraska, like every other college program — and NFL franchises and other sports, too, for that matter — has a big challenge on its hands in trying to help guys stay in shape while weight rooms are shut down and most gyms around the country are closed.
For some, like Husker sophomore Wan’Dale Robinson, whose dad runs a gym in Kentucky, finding a real workout might not be difficult. Incoming freshman running back Sevion Morrison regularly posts videos of outdoor workouts such as sprinting up hills. Reimer is working with Slatt. NU performance nutrition director Dave Ellis said over the weekend on the "Husker Football Show" that athletes are jogging in the stadium or working out outside as long as they don’t congregate. Each individual situation will be unique.
For Gifford, the combination of working with Slatt and a home gym in his parents’ Lincoln basement will have to be enough.
One of the added benefits of training locally: Gifford said he’s gotten to know Reimer and likes what he sees from the young Husker.
“I haven’t worked out with him, but I’ve been around him and talked with him quite a bit. He’s a stud, man,” Gifford said. “He’s going to be a really good player.
“That kid is rocked up out of his mind and he’s a freak athlete.”