Starving. Hungry. Satisfied.

Which one are you?

At Washington, the answer is quantifiable. This offseason, new Husky head coach Kalen DeBoer and head strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery implemented “The Starving Board” — a place to evaluate players’ comprehensive performance within the program. Each athlete is assigned a weekly score between one and three, factoring in the following criteria:

“It’s pretty much any area that touches our program,” McKeefery said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s sports medicine. It’s strength and conditioning. It’s sports nutrition. It’s academics. It’s football IQ in meetings. It’s their performance on the field. It’s how they represent themselves in our program and in their family.”

Depending on their weekly scores, UW’s players are slotted into three constantly evolving groups: “Starving for Greatness (the top tier),” “Hungry,” and “Satisfied.”

The goal is to infuse competition into every aspect of DeBoer’s program … while also making it quantifiably clear where each can improve.

“One thing we want to do in our program is provide a ton of positive reinforcement when guys do the things that are going to help us win championships,” McKeefery said. “And so, rewarding that in this grade each week is how we do that, and pointing out where there’s opportunities to be better.

“I think right now, in this NIL/one-time transfer (era) there’s a lot of people that are placating to people — telling everybody what they want to hear all the time. There’s no growth in comfort, right? So nobody gets better hearing how great they are all the time.”

Advertising

Added associate head coach and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard: “That (board), to me, shows the transparency of the program. But it’s not just that. Even with the quarterback competition that’s going on, we show our players, ‘Hey, this is where they made good decisions, bad decisions, missed assignments.’ Sometimes that whole quarterback battle can be somewhat hidden and people don’t want to talk about it. We’re very transparent with the offense. ‘This is where everybody is. These are the numbers. What do you think?’ Every part of the program is extremely transparent.”

The starving board’s results influence other parts of the program as well. When asked on March 30 why senior Jeremiah Martin and sophomore Bralen Trice began the spring as starters, EDGE coach Eric Schmidt said: “They were on the top of our starving board. They just earned it.”

It requires one to consistently win in myriad ways.

“A lot of guys want to win on Saturday afternoons. That’s not hard,” Schmidt said. “It’s meetings. It’s strength and conditioning. It’s the classroom. It’s all the stuff that goes into being a champion. That’s how we’re grading these guys, on a championship level. Are you a guy where we can go out there and win a championship with you? If you want to be that guy, you have to be it all day long. You can’t just be it on Saturday afternoon. Those habits don’t just show up.”

Where “The Starving Board” has traveled, habits have emerged. It was implemented by strength and conditioning coaches Matt Balis and David Ballou at Notre Dame in 2017, a year after the Irish completed a disastrous 4-8 season. They’ve gone 54-10, with a pair of College Football Playoff appearances, in five seasons under Balis since.

In 2018, Ballou took “The Starving Board” to Indiana, where DeBoer encountered it as the Hoosiers’ offensive coordinator the following year. And after going 5-7 in back-to-back seasons, IU improved to 8-5 in 2019 … before Ballou was hired to be Alabama’s director of sports performance in March 2020.

DeBoer then brought another iteration of “The Starving Board” to Fresno State, expanding it to encompass every part of the Bulldogs’ program. They went 4-8 the year prior to DeBoer’s return, and 13-6 in two seasons since.

Advertising

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Lonyatta Alexander Jr. — who transferred from Arizona State this offseason — said the competitive culture emphasized at UW is “totally different from what I had at ASU.”   

Of course, every program has phrases, tools and resources intended to motivate players. It takes more to coax results.

“I think one of the big things about Ronnie (McKeefery) is that he can motivate a kid from the middle of nowhere Iowa and downtown Seattle the exact same way,” said UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb. “His ability to relate to kids is as important as his programming.

“When you asked earlier about culture, I know that was a huge piece for coach DeBoer, getting Ronnie here, because he’s going to be a huge influencer of the culture. Those guys obviously spend a lot of time (together). He believes in the kids and the kids believe in him, and that’s square one.”

In the wake of a 4-8 season, DeBoer started at square one. He hired McKeefery and attempted to cultivate a competitive culture.

Hence “The Starving Board.”

“I’ve seen the board numerous times, and it definitely pushes us. It helps people compete,” Alexander said. “The competition is always crazy. Whether you’re on offense, defense, special teams, it doesn’t matter. With having that board, if you see your name on ‘Satisfied,’ you want to be in that Hungry/Starving position. You’re going to do whatever it takes — whether it’s competing, working out as hard as you can, etc. To answer your question, the competition is crazy.”

Added McKeefery: “These guys are elite competitors. That’s why they’re at this level. That’s what they thrive in, when they’re placed in that kind of environment. The challenge with college football is, you’re talking 12 to 14 games a year and that’s it. So you’ve got to find ways to feed that competitive spirit throughout the entire year. When you can make hard work fun by making it competitive, they respond to that and they want to challenge themselves.

“It’s a combination of providing them competitive opportunities, but then giving them consistent and constant feedback on how to improve.”

Extra point

  • Quarterback Sam Huard and wide receiver Jalen McMillan connected in UW’s seventh practice of the spring Wednesday, as Huard (who was working with the starters during the media viewing portion) hit McMillan in stride and he outran cornerback Elijah Jackson for a long touchdown.
  • Redshirt freshman Roger Rosengarten earned his first spring starting snaps (during media access) Wednesday, lining up at right tackle for several plays before a false start penalty resulted in Matteo Mele taking his spot along the first-team offensive line.