When Boise State strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha began his career 14 years ago, the attitude about speed matched the cliché.
You cant coach it.
Now, he does little else.
Socha consistently unearths an extra gear in his football players turning speed-challenged recruits into NFL Draft picks and helping Boise State become a fixture in the Top 25.
He gets those guys faster, coach Chris Petersen said. I really didnt think that happened. But across the board, our guys get faster.
Speed has become the must-have accessory in college football.
Some shop for it.
You cant coach length and you cant coach speed, Utah State first-year coach Matt Wells said. You can recruit it and you must recruit it or youll be talking to a new guy in three years.
Others cultivate it.
Petersen will take a great player with marginal speed cornerback Jamar Taylor, a second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins this year, is a prime example and give him to Socha.
I will take the better player, Petersen said, because then I think coach Socha will develop that speed.
POINT OF EMPHASIS
Socha played offensive line in the Big Ten at Minnesota.
Speed was not on his mind.
It was slow, smash-mouth football, he said.
He began his coaching career in 1999 as a graduate assistant at Auburn in the heart of college footballs fastest conference the SEC.
The strength coachs job back then: Build muscle.
Speed was an afterthought, Socha said.
It was so-and-so walked in the door and hes a 4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) guy, hes going to be a 4.4 guy, he said. That mind-set has changed. We know as strength coaches that we can change how fast someone is.
Socha joined the Boise State staff in 2006, Petersens first year as the head coach. The Broncos couldnt match Oklahomas speed in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of that season they won anyway but Socha said that gap has narrowed in the seven years since.
Its so important that every element of Boise States offseason training program is aimed at increasing speed. Socha spends half of his research time on speed.
Even the bench press is centered around being fast, he said. Thats the name of the game. The game has changed. Nine out of 10 times when you play a football game, the fastest team is going to win. It might be in subtle ways here or there, but you hope you have that advantage.
The Broncos training focuses on straight-line speed, change of direction and deceleration. Coaches break down the elements of running acceleration, deceleration, cutting, upper-body technique, footwork, etc. They strengthen the key muscles the hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads through weight-training exercises like squats. And they improve flexibility.
Its a six-month process, from the beginning of the spring semester in January to the start of fall camp in early August. The rigors of the season prevent speed training the rest of the year.
(Socha) knows how to get people in the best shape and get them faster and how to get them to move on the football field, especially, senior safety Ebo Makinde said.
The Broncos check their progress every spring, usually in early May. Players go through a series of tests similar to those administered at the NFL Scouting Combine. They also try to lift their max weight in three disciplines back squat, hang clean and bench press.
Two tests stand out to players.
The squat an explosive lift that contributes to speed. The linemen dominate.
And the 40 a measure of top-end speed. The wide receivers and defensive backs excel.
Thats such an important day to them, Socha said of the sprint. It takes a long time because theyre so focused in on it. A 40 to a skill guy is like a bench press is to a bodybuilder. If you want them to be confident in their speed, they have to have good 40 times.
Makinde ran the 40 in a team-best 4.24 seconds this year. He carries that memory onto the football field.
He has dropped more than a half-second from his 40 time since his junior year of high school.
I can feel more comfortable out there because I have that confidence I know Im fast, he said.
Socha figures he can trim up to two-tenths of a second off the time of a fast player during his five-year college career. He can chop up to a half-second off the time of a more plodding linebacker type.
Thats why Petersen is willing to take a player with superior skill and intelligence who has a speed shortcoming and trust Sochas staff to prepare him for college football.
Weve had a track record of getting that done, Socha said. As long as our guys work hard at it, theyre going to get better at it. They recruit really good guys who want to work hard and thats whats allowed us to do it. And sometimes it takes a while. Its not a process where you can microwave a guy. Its slow cooking and sometimes it doesnt happen fast enough for anybody the player, the coach, anybody. But it does happen.
And since players put so much emphasis on speed, theyre willing to work for it.
Its easy to convince them to buy in, Socha said. Whats hard is more and more guys at an early age are getting advice on speed. There are a lot of preconceived notions that theyre coming in with about how to get fast.
The emphasis on speed has trickled down to the grass roots of football.
Ever since Pop Warner, theyve always told us youve got to be able to run, Makinde said. You have to be in the best shape. You have to be able to run against the best receivers. And if youre not as big, you have to make up for it somewhere else thats in quickness and speed and agility.
Makinde didnt train specifically for speed until his senior year of high school. He was a two-time regional champion in the 400 meters in Arizona.
But he says he didnt become fast until he began training with his brother, Victor Makinde, who designed his own training program while playing football at SMU.
By the end of his freshman year at Boise State, Makinde ran in the 4.3s. He ran 4.77 as a high school junior.
I actually was surprised, he said. I never thought about running that fast. I just wanted to get faster.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Patti began speed training when he was in seventh grade. He grew up in Orlando, Fla., and worked with a trainer at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World.
In Florida, its a fast game, Patti said. All the kids down there are quick. I put a lot of importance on it.
Treasure Valley high schools have joined the speed revolution, too.
Centennial High coach Lee Neumann, who is entering his 24th season, used videos and sessions at a speed school to learn how to train his players. He teaches a fitness class that is half speed development and half strength training.
The biggest change in the last 10 to 15 years in the Boise area is just the speed factor, he said. Kids are becoming so much faster, so much quicker, so much more explosive.
The question now is where it stops.
If the track world is any indication, theres no reason players cant keep getting faster.
The world record in the mens 100 meters has dropped from 9.92 seconds by Carl Lewis in 1988 to 9.58 by Usain Bolt in 2009.
We havent seen a wall yet, Socha said. As long as guys are getting stronger and more flexible and theyre doing it the right way, I dont know where the wall is going to be.
Thats the neat thing. We dont know.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat