The Pitt football coaching staff under Todd Graham is big on visuals. With a quick glance around the Panthers' South Side facility, it's easy to see the immediate focus on visual encouragement: previously bare - or lightly-decorated - walls are covered with floor-to-ceiling murals.
The weight room is no different. Traditionally a large-scale display case for motivational phrases and weight benches, Graham and Pitt strength coach Shawn Griswold have turned up the intensity on the walls of Pitt's weight room.
Iron Shapes Iron
Character - Integrity - Discipline
Blue Collar - Hard Edge
The Beast From the East
Those phrases are plastered around Pitt's renovated weight room, along with floor-to-ceiling depictions of former Pitt greats like Larry Fitzgerald, Darrelle Revis, and Craig "Ironhead" Heyward adorning the four pillars of the room. There's even a countdown clock ticking away toward the start of the 2011 season.
In a profession that thrives on a variety of motivational techniques, Griswold - who Graham has called the team's "personnel director" - has his own set of tools, and one of those is the Rock.
The Rock is nothing more than a painted slab, but for Griswold and the players, it represents an accomplishment. Griswold presented the team with one Rock that signified the end of spring camp; another Rock symbolized the end of the summer workouts. That one was brought out on Friday after the players had wrapped up their final conditioning drill of the summer.
When the last drill had ended, after Griswold spoke a few words to the players - "I don't say much," he said, "but I'm proud of you" - he handed a sledgehammer to redshirt senior defensive tackle Myles Caragein. As the players huddled around, Caragein used one swing to officially end a long summer of conditioning runs, weight room sessions, and speed training.
"That rock symbolizes us conquering the offseason program," Caragein said after doing the honors. "It's one step at a time, and we're going to conquer each step. What's symbolized in breaking it is us conquering each step."
For Griswold, who came to Pitt after working with Graham at Tulsa, the summer conditioning program is about more than just getting bigger, stronger, and faster (although those goals are certainly at the forefront of his focus). The summer training provides an opportunity for the players to grow as individuals and grow together as a team.
"You get to see young people change their lives," Griswold said Friday. "You feel like you're almost a mentor, a preacher, and a minister to them because you see the changes in their life. When I got here, they said Buddy Jackson wouldn't be able to do it; he wouldn't stay focused. Well, he hasn't missed one thing the whole time."
"It's been incredible," redshirt junior receiver Mike Shanahan said. "It's been really tough, but that toughness has kind of brought everybody together. We all pull for each other to compete in all the runs and everything. It's been a great team-building experience."
Of course, Griswold's offseason program has had tangible effects as well. The players have spent 42 workout sessions over the last 12 weeks - two hours per day, four days per week - with Griswold and his staff, and the results are clear:
The Pitt players look more physically impressive, and, to a man, they each expressed a feeling of being in peak condition.
"I think this is the best shape I've ever been in," Shanahan said. "Coach Griz has done a great job with us."
"They've exceeded my expectations," Griswold said. "When we got here in January, I sat down with my assistants and said, okay, sometimes it takes three years for our conditioning to get in shape. But they've done a great job."
Now the team has a week off before opening training camp 2011 on Monday, August 8, and from there the focus turns to Buffalo, Pitt's opponent in the season opener on September 3 at Heinz Field. Buffalo is currently listed on the countdown clock in Pitt's weight room, but the Bulls' logo adorns another piece of hardware:
It is painted on a rock. The next Rock.
"We have twelve more of those rocks with each team's symbol on it," Caragein said.
After each win this season, the Pitt players will smash the opponent's rock. If the Panthers are left with very few rocks intact at the end of the season, they will likely come into possession of a Big East trophy. Redshirt senior Brandon Lindsey made it clear Friday morning what the goal is as he looked across the field at Pitt's 2010 Big East championship trophy - a championship the Panthers shared with Connecticut and West Virginia - which Griswold's staff puts on display during every weight session and conditioning drill.
"We don't want to share a trophy. That's a shared trophy; that's a co-Big East champ. We want to be the real Big East champ and we want to leave no doubt."