Ask anyone what was the biggest surprise of the 2015 Conference USA football season. The majority will agree that the leap of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles from cellar dwellers to division champs is number one on that list.
You can talk about the JUCO and FBS transfers. You can mention the team coming together as a whole in the third year of the Todd Monken era. You can throw out several other factors and still be correct. One that is often missed is the hiring of a coach in a position that many overlook: strength and conditioning.
Raise your hand if you are familiar with Southern Miss strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin. The Prattville, Alabama native was brought into the fold one year ago, in January of 2015. Woodfin, a UAB graduate, was working with his alma mater in 2014 before his life was turned upside down when UAB's football program was disbanded. The Golden Eagles quickly jumped in and offered him the position and the rest is history.
So who is Zac Woodfin?
Woodfin is one hell of a college football player that has turned into one of the best up and coming strength and conditioning coaches in the nation.
The 32-year old Southern Miss coach is an Alabama native that earned the attention of local program UAB during his impressive high school career. He joined the Blazers and immediately became a player to watch on the UAB defense. Woodfin made the most of his time with the program, leaving UAB as the top tackler in school history with 372 tackles. His record, set in the 2004 season, still stands.
After making his mark on the college level, Woodfin spent time in camp with Green Bay (cut in training camp) and then New Orleans on the practice squad. Woodfin also spent some time with Baltimore and Houston before being drafted by the Frankfort Galaxy of NFL Europe in 2007.
While still a professional player, Woodfin had already gotten involved as an intern with his alma mater UAB in 2006, using his Exercise Science degree to work with several different athletic teams. He then took a volunteer job with the University of Alabama football program in 2007, helping the team during in-season training.
After getting cut by the Texans, Woodfin was at a crossroads. He needed to decide if he would continue his dream of playing professional football, or go full time into strength and conditioning. After much internal debate, Woodfin took a position as a performance specialist at Athletes' Performance in Los Angeles. During that time, he got the opportunity to work with athletes from the a wide variety of sports, ranging from the NFL to Olympic sports. This position that he worked for four years was seen as a great way to break back into football, this time as a coach.
Woodfin left Athletes' Performance to accept a job as a strength and conditioning assistant for the Green Bay Packers in 2011. While working his way up the ladder, he garnered the attention of his alma mater once again. Nearly three years after taking a job with the Packers, Woodfin packed his bags once again. This time he was headed back home to UAB.
During his one year with the university, Woodfin helped UAB make the jump from 2-10 to 6-6 and bowl eligibility. Despite the university dropping the football program, many outside of the program took notice of his talent. FootballScoop even named Woodfin their 2014 Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.
Not wanting to leave his alma mater but also wanting to continue to work with a football program, Woodfin accepted Todd Monken's invitation to take over the Southern Miss strength and conditioning program. During his one year on the job (overseeing 16 sports), the Golden Eagles have shown significant improvement in every physical area.
For all of the credit that has been given to other aspects of the program, a good portion should be given to Zac Woodfin and the strength and conditioning program.