By Daniel Hill
After Baylor defeated SMU on Sept. 2, former Bears wide receiver and current Cleveland Browns player Josh Gordon took to Twitter to explain Baylor football’s secret weapon. He said that Baylor’s “secret weapon” is the strength and conditioning program of Kaz Kazadi.
Kazadi, commonly referred to as “Coach Kaz,” is the backbone of Baylor’s football program as the assistant athletic director for athletic performance.
All year, Kaz is actively molding and developing the athletes that take the gridiron on Saturdays in the fall.
When head coach Art Briles was hired in 2008, one of his first moves was to hire Kaz and bring him to Baylor.
When Kaz arrived, he had to instill a new mentality among the team and raise the bar on work ethic.
“In 2008, I think we just had to help with an overhaul of the culture, and you just start with the basics,” Kaz said. “Teaching guys a work ethic and how to embrace working at a high level and then just remove some of that doubt.”
From the change of culture in 2008 to now, Baylor football has produced multiple NFL players.
In the 2009 NFL Draft, Baylor’s offensive tackle Jason Smith was selected with the No. 2 overall pick by the St. Louis Rams.
At the time, Smith was quick to praise Kaz for pushing him to achieve his maximum potential.
“Coach Kaz means a lot to me,” Smith said. “It is very unexplainable what he is to me. He is a unique person, and I love him.”
In the 2011 NFL Draft, both defensive tackle Phil Taylor (No. 21 overall, Cleveland Browns) and left tackle Danny Watkins (No. 23 overall, Philadelphia Eagles) were first round draft picks.
As an encore in 2012, Baylor had two first rounders: Robert Griffin III (No 2. overall, Washington Redskins) and Kendall Wright (No. 20 overall, Tennessee Titans).
Not only does Kaz keep in touch with Baylor athletes that move on to the next level, but they usually return to Waco so they can once again train with Kaz.
“I think they just like to come back into the environment, and they like to come back because they feel like it’s home and they feel a sense of loyalty,” Kaz said. “They want to make sure that guys know that we are dreaming big. They love it. They are Baylor through and through.”
Kaz had high expectations and praise for Robert Griffin III, who turned in a spectacular rookie debut by throwing for more than 300 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Redskins victory over the New Orleans Saints.
“We expected him to perform like that, we really did,” Kaz said. “I’m pretty sure that he just didn’t want Nick Florence to show him up from the week before. He was probably just trying to keep up with Nick because Nick had a great game. I mean RG3 is the best under pressure person I’ve seen. He goes to the combine and when all the chips are on the table, he runs that 4.34. He runs it so fast that it confuses all the clocks.”
Strength and conditioning programs are a mysterious and little-known aspect of major college football, but players spend an immense amount of time training with Kaz during the offseason.
The offseason is broken up into three key phases: winter conditioning, spring practice and summer workouts. Then, of course, there is training camp and the season in the fall.
The day after games, the team gathers for the most crucial and important training session of the week.
“If you’re playing on Saturdays, we are going to go ahead and have a great lift day on Sundays because you are already sore and it helps lubricate the joints and it helps flush out a lot of the lactic acid and toxins that they got from competing at a high level” Kaz said.
On game days and in the weight room, the team builds off of the energy and winning attitude of Kaz.
“In the weight room the role is really just to set a good example,” Kaz said. “Don’t allow everyday excuses. I think my role in the weight room is really just to set a sense of accountability and hold them to it. Then after that, it’s maintain the tempo. I think accountability and tempo are going to be my number one responsibilities.”
Author of the ESPN Big 12 Blog, David Ubben quickly noticed the intensity of Kaz at last year’s TCU game.
“(Kaz) is one of the most intense coaches you’ll see in the game,” Ubben wrote. “I’ve been to a handful of practices at Baylor and that’s obvious. It didn’t change on the sidelines during the game.”
Now Baylor is recruiting better athletes these days, and Kaz is getting the most out of his players.
“Guys that come here are automatically a different breed, you know,” Kaz said. “I think that’s where all success comes from, is really from the neck up. You know, positive thinking and positive self-talk, self esteem, all of those things. The guys that we got now, Bryce Hager, Ahmad Dixon, those guys do things that are very impressive. Bryce is a 4.4 guy. At middle linebacker he runs a 4.4, which is impressive. Ahmad Dixon is a 4.3 at linebacker. You just don’t see too many of those guys. Offensively, guys with the work ethic of Glasco Martin and guys with the grace of (Jarred) Salubi. Cyril Richardson, I mean 700 and some odd pounds to squat and he makes it look easy. Ivory Wade, they do things at a high level and there’s a lot of them that do it.”
Kaz not only challenges players physically, but his workouts often place strenuous demands on them mentally.
“We expect them to be successful,” Kaz said. “So if you hold a high standard for all the guys, then I think they get used to that and that sense of habit, and they become successful regularly at a high level. Then pretty soon, they know how to overcome adversity and how to overcome difficult situations and push through it. They know whether it’s one rep at a time in the weight room, or whether it’s one test at a time in academics or whatever it is, you have to have some kind of a formula, and a formula is simply breaking it down to its simplest form, one thing at a time. You simplify it, one day at a time. One rep or whatever it is, one lap or whatever we’re doing.”