Carson

Defensive back Daijon Carson goes through an exercise to strengthen his core.

It's 95 degrees in the middle of the afternoon, and the Winston-Salem State football players going through a voluntary workout could be somewhere else. Anywhere else, really.

Instead, the few who showed up are intensely listening to Marc Heinecke, the veteran strength and conditioning coach. By NCAA rules, Heinecke is the only coach who can put athletes through workouts in the summer, and he’s serious about making the time spent with players is meaningful and productive.

“He puts it on us pretty good, but we need this,” said defensive back Daijon Carson about Heinecke’s four-day-a-week sessions that last anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.

The workouts vary between the weight room at Bowman Gray Stadium and agility drills in the parking lot. The stadium steps also give Heinecke and the players plenty of options.

“It’s a good variety of drills that we do,” said DeAndre Blevins, a rising senior.

Omar

Omar Baker stretches in the weight room at Bowman Gray Stadium.

Heinecke keeps accurate records about the number of players participating in the summer workouts. And a correlation can be made between the number of players who attend and how successful the Rams will be in the upcoming season.

Back in 2012, the average attendance for the workouts, which are held either in the morning or the afternoon, was 55 players. That fall, the Rams went 14-1 and played in the NCAA Division II championship game.

In 2018, the average attendance for the workouts was 18 players. The Rams went a disappointing 5-4.

This summer, close to 30 players a day are working out with Heinecke, which is an encouraging sign.

“I think it does make a difference that these guys come in together because they are forming those bonds and staying in shape as a group,” Heinecke said about the good showing so far for this summer. “It’s a lot easier to push yourself when there are others in the group.”

The largest position group participating in the workouts has been the defensive backs with eight or sometimes nine coming on a daily basis.

It's possible that having their position coach, Robert Massey, now serving as the interim head coach is the reason that group of players have made a point to come to the workouts. Massey said the workouts play a vital role in building a bond that will carry over into preseason camp.

"It's not only important for the veteran guys but the younger guys as well because it helps them get ready for what's ahead," Massey said.

One of the regulars has been All-America safety Daryus Skinner, a rising senior who led Division II with 11 interceptions in nine games in 2018. Skinner could be resting on his accomplishments or strengthening his thumbs playing video games after having one of the best seasons for a defensive player in school history.

Skinner, however, is not wired that way.

“My goal is to get better, and it starts here in the summer,” said Skinner, who despite being just 5-foot-11 and roughly 170 pounds, is a possible contender to be named the CIAA defensive player of the year. “I think I might have taken a week off earlier this summer, but I’m right back at it.”

Winston-Salem State Virginia Union Football

Daryus Skinner had 11 interceptions in nine games last season and heads into his senior season as a favorite for CIAA defensive player of the year.

The defensive backfield was a strength for the Rams last season, and the players in that group plan on playing that same role again this fall.

Blevins also looks to have a great final season.

“I think this definitely helps us and it keeps us in front of the eight ball for staying in shape and being ready in August when practice starts,” Blevins said. “With Coach Massey being our defensive backs coach, he told us all the time how important it is to be here in the summer so we’ve all tried to make it.”

As the summer winds down, the players will report to camp Aug. 7, and the first practice is scheduled for Aug. 9. The Rams open the season on Sept. 5 at UNC Pembroke.

“We are still becoming a team and this helps and with Coach Massey the head coach it will be different but it’s going to be good and we’re excited,” Blevins said. “We are familiar with Coach Massey and he’s a hard-working coach and we want to be hard-working players.”

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jdell@wsjournal.com

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@johndellWSJ

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