LINCOLN — A year ago, Mark Philipp was no different than the Nebraska coaching staff that Mike Riley had just assembled after taking over the Husker football program.
Philipp was settling into a new office in the Osborne Complex weight room, just starting to learn names and personalities and introducing a different strength and conditioning program and methods of teaching to 100-plus players.
It wasn't that Philipp didn't expect to get the most out of that 2015 stretch of winter conditioning, but it makes sense that he would assume a higher rate of efficiency and effectiveness this second time around.
"I think the expectations that they set for themselves and we've set, the standard is a lot higher coming into this year as opposed to last year, with the whole rebuilding of it last year," Philipp said. "They kind of know how we do things, and it's a lot easier to push them more.
"We're getting after them right now. They're having a good time with it."
NU is nearing the midway point of its winter program, with Philipp and his staff serving as the day-today gatekeepers of the Huskers until spring practice starts March 5.
Philipp didn't get into training specifics during an interview Thursday night at the Big Red Bash, but said the "culture of how we do things" remains a work in progress and something that he has to continue to develop.
"I think the most important thing with our staff and our kids is creating a quality relationship where coming into the weight room is not something that's a burden to them, because they have to get up at 7 or whatever time it is to come and do what they have to do," Philipp said. "They enjoy every moment that they come in there. We make sure that it's an enjoyable environment."
Philipp said one major difference from a year ago is better knowing each individual, and thus what buttons to push or not push.
"It makes our job easier that we can identify that," he said.
In the cold of winter, Philipp said he also has seen "countless" leaders emerging, including some players who haven't necessarily played much in the past.
"These guys are awesome, man," Philipp said. "If we can't get fired up being in there when those guys are in there ... I mean, they bring the energy."
NU senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong is one of those trying to lead the way and help teammates follow during their time with Philipp. Winter will soon transition into spring practice, and Armstrong said players were excited about some football-specific meetings resuming now that NU staff are back around the offices after signing day.
"I'm looking forward to it," Armstrong said. "We got a lot of seniors on offense that are looking forward to leading these guys the right way, and I think it's going to be a great thing for us."
With all that tied together, both Riley and NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said the Huskers should be able to hit the ground running when spring practice begins in four weeks. Langsdorf joked Thursday night that his unit a year ago had to first figure out where to stand in the huddle before it could start to get anything accomplished.
"So it's going to be fun to see how much we can progress, how much further we can go," Langsdorf said.
Riley said it also should be a team motivated through the winter and into spring drills by its shortcomings last season. The Huskers were 3-6 at one point thanks to several close losses, then won three of four to finish.
Highlights from the 37-29 win over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl were playing on the Devaney Center video boards before Riley spoke Thursday night at the Big Red Bash.
"That was great," he said. "That's a nice way to finish. That will be a good way to begin next year.
"We are anxious to go forward. We understand the opportunities that we let slip away last year. Hopefully we understand and can figure out how to best take advantage of those opportunities next year — and we can find a way to help prepare our players to take advantage of those opportunities — and those close losses turn into wins."
But every season starts the winter before, and that goes back to Philipp and these crucial few weeks of work that remain.
"Our strength and conditioning coaches are working our tails off," Armstrong said.