Southern Miss

Zac Woodfin makes huge impact on Southern Miss football program in 1 year

USM MEDIA RELATIONSSouthern Miss strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin has made a huge difference on the Golden Eagles in less than one year.
USM MEDIA RELATIONSSouthern Miss strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin has made a huge difference on the Golden Eagles in less than one year.

HATTIESBURG -- Who got Southern Miss football players into good condition going into the season?

Zac Woodfin.

Who got the Golden Eagles wanting to lift weights?

Zac Woodfin.

Who harps on the USM football players to eat nutritious, not junk food?

Zac Woodfin.

Who is the guy on the sideline waving the towel and getting the Golden Eagles all fired up during games?

Zac Woodfin.

Who is the person that coaches and players have praised over and over and credit for their improved mindset this season?

Yep. Zac Woodfin.

Officially, Woodfin is the Southern Miss strength and conditioning coach. And while he probably doesn't draw too many X's and O's, he is definitely a man in the middle of the action for the Southern Miss football program.

"Zac was a tremendous, tremendous hire," USM head coach Todd Monken said.

No argument here. Woodfin, a former defensive player at UAB, has worked with athletes both in private business, with the Green Bay Packers and at UAB. While at UAB, he was named the 2014 Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.

But when UAB closed down its football program, temporarily as it now stands, Southern Miss swooped in and hired him.

Woodfin has been in Hattiesburg less than a year, but the results are in.

"He's one of the best motivators I've ever been around," Golden Eagle starting quarterback and Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year Nick Mullens said.

"You've got guys that you never really would have thought they would have come as far as they've come this year. Now the whole team is excited to work out, excited to make each other better and work as hard as we've ever worked. That's what coach Woodfin does, motivates and makes everybody around him better."

That may be the highest compliment Woodfin could receive.

"I love all our student-athletes," he said. "I care about them and I try to serve them. Those three things are key in building culture, building champions, both on the field and off the field. Love, serve, care -- that's my life mission. Not only what I do here but for my kids, my wife, I try to live life all the same way."

Southern Miss went 3-9 last season. That was pre-Woodfin. This year, it is 9-4 going into Saturday's 1:20 p.m. Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl and, after being picked fourth, won the Conference USA West Division title.

Of course, there was a lot more to the success than Woodfin. Credit Monken and his staff, a host of transfers, the maturity level of the players, the relative good health of the players and the positive mindset, to name a few.

"I think our strength and conditioning and our mental training is a piece of the pie," Woodfin said. "It's not the biggest piece and it's definitely not the only piece. Our position coaches, our head coach, and most importantly our players have done the work on the field. They have made the plays.

"Our coaches have done a great job of preparing game plans and having the guys ready to execute. Our athletic training staff has done a great job of keeping our guys healthy. Our strength and conditioning staff has done a great job of developing our players both mentally and physically to give ourselves a chance to win a championship. So it's a total team effort from everybody here, and we're happy to be a small piece of that."

No doubt he did.

Take the fourth quarter, for instance. The time of the game when energy wanes. When focus vanishes. When leads disappear.

In the 12-game regular season, USM was outscored by its opponents only twice in the fourth quarter. In those games, USM outscored the opposition 136 to 74 in that final quarter.

"I try to remain very humble because I know it's much greater than one person," Woodfin said. "And when they do well in the fourth quarter, I'm very proud of our players."

Of course he's right, but when it comes to motivation at the beginning of the fourth quarter, see who is waving the gold towel on the Southern Miss sideline. See who is getting the players to pump their fists in anticipation. See who the players rally around, jumping up and down.

See who usually wins the fourth quarter.

"I love this game," Woodfin said. "I love sport. I love athletics. I love what I do. Therefore, my natural energy and excitement shows. I don't hold anything back. I love game days.

"I love seeing our guys have success because we put in hours upon hours of work, early mornings, late nights when nobody's around. Those are the hours that we work for Saturdays, so when I see our guys have success on Saturdays, I know what was behind it and I get really excited for them and for our team and because I love the game."

Woodfin's alma mater, UAB, will start its football program back up. Other teams will be looking for someone to run their strength and conditioning programs.

So will Woodfin return to Southern Miss after the Heart of Dallas Bowl?

"That's the plan," he said.