Originally published Dec 14, 1983
Boyd Epley is the strength coach at the University of Nebraska. He says the Cornhuskers prefer to build muscle the old-fashioned way. They eeeaaarrn it.
He cringes at the suggestion that anabolic steroids might have infiltrated his program. Maybe other places, Epley says, but not Nebraska.
"If they were to institute testing for steroids on a national basis," he said, "I think that would work to Nebraska's advantage. Because we're geared up to produce good football players without steroids . We have the facility, we have a computerized program we feel very good about. And we have the supervisors.
"The other schools that are trying to keep up with us - and I can't say this for sure - but I think many of them are using steroids to keep pace with us. "
When Epley took over the Nebraska strength program 11 years ago, he inherited a few pieces of ancient equipment and a promise from Bob Devaney, then the coach and now the athletic director, that things would get better. They did.
"I made up a list of equipment that I thought they'd need and gave it to them," Epley said. "They bought it. So then I made another list. They bought it too. I've been making lists ever since. "
Epley oversees an enormous 13,000-square foot weight room that contains more than $200,000 worth of equipment. He has 12 assistants, a film room, a staff photographer and a larger office than the football coach.
He has been able to get all of that because his weight program has been as big a reason as any for the Huskers' football success the past 11 years.
When offensive guard Dean Steinkuhler, the Outland and Lombardi Trophy winner, arrived on Nebraska's doorstep four years ago, he weighed an undernourished 210 pounds and couldn't bench press a spare tire. Today, he tips the scales at 275 and could clean-and-jerk a small truck.
When Mike Tranmer suited up for his first workout in 1978, he was a 195- pound featherweight who could barely bench 300. Now, the Husker nose guard is a hard-as-rock 245 who can bench almost twice his weight.
And there are a lot more weight-room success stories where those came from.
''We're very proud of the progress our players have made," Epley said. ''Not all players apply themselves. Not all players make that kind of progress. But the opportunity is here. We like to say this is where the best athlete can come to get better. "
But many skeptics have suggested that it takes more than weights to produce some of the behemoths who are blocking and tackling for the Cornhuskers.
"I don't care how much you lift," said one USFL assistant coach, "you don't make the (strength and weight) gains some of those guys have made without help. "
The help the gentleman was referring to was anabolic steroids .
But Epley contends he's got a clean house and many of the Cornhusker players concur.
"I know people outside of the program think a lot of us use them," said Tranmer, whose goal is to become a veterinarian, not a professional football player. "They think the only way you can play here is if you take them. I've told them they're all wrong.
"People look at our success here and wonder how come. They refuse to believe that it can come from just working hard.
"Boyd said once that a lot of players around the country use them and that people were asking him if we used them and he said he didn't know. As far as I know, nobody uses them. Or if they are, they're keeping it a pretty good secret. "
"I don't think ( steroids ) are necessary in college football," said Epley, who was a pole vaulter as a collegian. "We're not trying to make weightlifters out of our athletes. We're not trying to see how much they can lift one time as a means to make them a better football player.
"If they were involved in powerlifting or Olympic lifting, then I could see where ( steroids ) might benefit them. But a football player plays a different game. They go out, have a burst of effort, then have a 25-second rest. Then another burst and another 25-second rest.
"There's really no need for maximum strength. They need explosive endurance and power. They need to be fast and agile. And if they can get some strength thrown in there too, fine."