June 27, 2011
Story courtesy of PonyFans.com
Part of the discussion about any team over an offseason revolves around who has changed the most, or taken the biggest strides to improve, since the previous season. In the case of the SMU football team, there really is only one Mustang in that race, and he has lapped the field.
That is not to suggest that other players haven't put in ample time and energy to work harder in the weight room, improve their understanding of the offense or defense, get in extra running, etc.; after a full year under strength and conditioning coach Mel de Laura's tutelage, there are several players who look considerably bigger, stronger and faster.
But the overhaul left guard Josh LeRibeus has undergone is so dramatic it's almost hard to believe. Consider that last fall, he was academically ineligible to play, relegated to a spot on the scout-team offense and, in his own words, "way too heavy."
Of course, there are different kinds of "heavy." Some who carry around too many pounds struggle to move -- that never was the case for LeRibeus. When he and some of his fellow linemen gathered for offseason racquetball games, many marveled at his quickness, ability to change direction and jumping ability.
But the Mustangs' 2011 spring workouts, LeRibeus looked different -- drastically different. LeRibeus said that around the time he watched his teammates play in the Armed Forces Bowl, he weighed "close to 380 pounds." At the end of the Ponies' spring practice, the 6-foot-2-inch senior-to-be was down to about 310.
Gone are the late-night fast food binges; in their place, a healthy diet consisting of meals like chicken and green beans. Occasionally he'll satisfy his appetite with an all-you-can-eat buffet, but it's sushi, not junk food. Also new is his level of work in the Mustangs' weight room on his conditioning. Teammates marvel at his new-found intensity. In the voluntary conditioning workouts, he regularly finishes first among the linemen, sometimes by a wide margin. He even wears sleeveless shirts, now that his arms look strong, rather than merely big. He said he would like to get down to 299 pounds -- just to say he did, and take a picture -- before getting back up to his target playing weight of 310-315 pounds.
Playing offensive line is almost as much about timing and chemistry with the other linemen as it is about size and power. After spending a season on the scout team, LeRibeus acknowledged that he spent the beginning of the spring workouts shaking off the rust, in terms of getting used to playing again between left tackle Kelvin Beachum, Jr.
, and centers Blake McJunkin
and Bryce Tennison
. But it wasn't like he was a newcomer to the offense, or to offensive line coach Adrian Klemm's
"On defensive line stunts, and things like that, I was a little slower, but after the first week or so, I was back up to speed," LeRibeus said. "I recognized what was coming. After a few days, there were times I'd even call it before `Beach.' The center makes the initial call, things like what 'backer we have to watch for. Beach's calls are more like alerts -- what could happen, stunts that might be coming, `dogs' (when a linebacker walks up outside the defensive end as another pass rusher). All of that came back pretty quickly."
But for LeRibeus to reach his potential, even with his old linemates, he had to rededicate himself, to go from a big guy with athletic gifts to an athlete who happens to be (a little) over 300 pounds. He changed not only what he ate, but also when he ate; he said he no longer eats after 7 p.m. He also seriously altered his approach to offseason conditioning.
LeRibeus wants a chance to continue playing after his SMU career is over. He has heard before that if he wants to earn a living as a player, he would have to change his approach. With one year left in his college career, the message got through.
"I used to go twice a week to the weight room in the offseason," he said. "Now I'm in there every day with Mel (de Laura), even Saturday.
"(Offensive line) Coach (Adrian) Klemm was saying how I had a bad Hawaii Bowl (at the end of the 2009 season) - which I did. A couple of weeks before the game, I was eating pizza, and I played at 350 pounds. It made sense."
LeRibeus said that during his 2010 season on the scout team, he never doubted that he would rejoin his teammates for his final season at SMU. He got his academics in order, and carried that focus over to his conditioning, and he will rejoin Beachum to make the left side of the Ponies' senior-laden line one of the strongest areas of the entire offense.
"I knew I was going to play again," LeRibeus said. "I was glad to help the team by playing on the scout team, but obviously, it's not the same. We had a good offensive line last year, but I wasn't really a part of it. I think we have a chance to be even better this year.
"I missed playing last year, and I want a chance to keep playing. Hopefully the work will pay off."