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UL strength and conditioning coach Mark Hocke, right, is head coach Billy Napier's right-hand man in many ways as the associate head coach.

The head coach knows he’s going to be the subject of criticism.

And in some programs, the offensive and defensive coordinators are high profile enough to receive their fair share of specific complaints about their job performance as well.

But typically the strength and conditioning coach isn’t close to the top of the list of staff members to attack when things aren’t going as expected for your favorite college football team.

Listen to UL strength and conditioning coach/associate head coach Mark Hocke detail all the things his staff is responsible for, however, and perhaps some critics would change their minds on that subject.

For starters, NCAA rules gives the strength and conditioning staff the first crack at the players before both the spring and fall seasons even begin.

On the first day of spring practice Tuesday, UL head coach Mark Napier gave Hocke’s staff credit for how it handled the first phases of Napier's eight-step process the rest of us call a football season.

“As a strength staff, we have a huge advantage of implementing the culture Coach wants,” Hocke said. “My job is to echo his message on a daily basis.

“For eight weeks in the winter going into spring ball and then for eight weeks in the summer going into fall camp, that’s an opportunity for our strength staff to echo that message and really implement a standard as far the culture is concerned.”

Napier is pleased so far.

“I want to give Mark and his staff some credit; they’ve done a great job,” Napier said. “We’ve put a huge emphasis on player development, and we’re starting to see the dividends of that. Today they gave really good effort and really good energy. We need to have more players who can play with more consistency and more reliability.

“We’re much further along from a conditioning perspective. We’re a stronger football team in much better condition. We’re seasoned when it comes to the mental toughness and how we respond during adversity, and we’re a much more close-knit group.”

In other words, it’s Hocke and his staff who really get each player’s mind in the right place to be coached by the rest of the coaches.

“It’s a mental approach,” Hocke said. “It starts with the type of attitude you have toward your work on a daily basis and really the physical approach, the type of physical intensity you back your work up with on a daily basis.”

The results of that can be difficult for the media, an athletic director or even the fans themselves to accurately judge.

But Hocke himself attempts to do so in several areas.

One is finishing.

“That’s a daily mindset, how you attack your work on a daily basis,” Hocke said. “Coach Napier’s big vision is being legendary finishers. I think that’s a huge challenge we undertake as a strength staff, taking great pride in how we finish, whether it be a lift, whether it be a run, whether it be a practice, whether it be a season, I think that’s mental, and I think that’s physical, and I think that’s how you train on a daily basis throughout the year.”

For the fans, that can actually be seen on the field during games.

“We want you to see a product that at the end of the game, you shouldn’t see us bending over, you shouldn’t see hands on the hips, you shouldn’t see us sucking for wind," Hocke said. "You should almost see our athletes gain momentum as the game goes on. That’s how I like to judge myself and our ability to do our job at a high level.”

The second one is prevention of injuries.

“There’s going to be certain nicks and bumps and bruises,” Hocke said, “especially when you train at a very high level, so it’s hard to quantify what is a certain amount of injuries … what’s too many? What’s not enough? Obviously you never want any.

“But as far as quantifying it, you just want to stay away from a large number of injuries, especially in a certain area to the best of your ability.”


Follow Kevin Foote on Twitter, @FooteNote.