Q&A: Michael Pinckney on mat drills, tattoos, FSU, impressive freshmen and life as a Miami Hurricane

In this image from a UM-produced video, linebacker Michael Pinckney listens to strength coach Gus Felder during a workout. (UM)

In this image from a UM-produced video, linebacker Michael Pinckney listens to strength coach Gus Felder during a workout. (UM)

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CORAL GABLES — When mat drills are over, Michael Pinckney is skipping town.

That’s his prerogative. UM will be on spring break, and one of the toughest parts of the college football season will be over.

The phase of Miami’s offseason conditioning program known as “mat drills” consists of nine hour-long sessions, the first of which happened Thursday. NCAA rules once again permit coaches to work with players, so all Miami assistants gather players in a gym and run them through intense cardio and change-of-direction workout that makes legs and lungs burn.

 

“All day, we walk past each other like, ‘We got mat drills in the morning,'” Pinckney said. “It’s a looming thing. But it’s a time for us to compete. It’s another opportunity for us to compete and do what we’ve got to do. I’m going to try to make the best out of it, try to make it fun. A lot of people try to down-talk it. I guess because it’s early morning. No one likes waking up early in the morning. Go in the gym, all the coaches are in there yelling and screaming, it’s early morning, you feel like, man, I don’t feel like doing this. But once you get 15 minutes in, you’re like ah, we’re good now. You’re competing again.”

 

They’ll have two sessions a week until UM goes on spring break (March 11-19). Veterans know it helps them finish games and seasons, so they attack every station with zeal. The leaders — Pinckney, Chad Thomas, Jaquan JohnsonBraxton BerriosShaq QuartermanAhmmon Richards and others — will help the newcomers. They’ll all survive.

And then rest before spring ball.

Hitting nine more topics with Pinckney, who sat down with The Post this week for a story on Miami’s linebacker group chasing greatness in Year 2 (read the story here):

Reviewing 2016: “It was a great season, man. Had an opportunity to play with some great guys. Wish them the best. Just trying to come out and have a better year.”

Goals for 2017? “Try to establish a season where we can just dominate. We know the scheme. We’ve been in it a year. We know the coaches. We’re used to the guys. We’re pushing for the ACC championship. That’s the first goal. Then the national. But we can’t skip over the ACC, because we’ve got to win that first.

“There’s always a step to everything. Winning the Coastal, winning your rivalry games – Florida State, that’s a big game, we’ve got them third game of the season. We’re just trying to focus on one game at a time. You can’t skip over games. When you do that, you take people lightly, and you lose.”

That being said, when Miami-FSU was announced as Week 3, what was your reaction? “I thought it was a great opportunity for us. It’s going to be a great time for us. We’re going to have a lot of people healthy. It’s going to be early in the season and the adrenaline’s going to be pumping. I feel like it’s going to be a great game. It’s in Tallahassee, a great environment for football – it’s going to be a hostile environment for us, but I think we’re going to handle it.”

How much better can you be as a linebacker unit? “The sky’s the limit. We’ve got work to do. We’ve all been in the system a year and we added three great guys. I watched their film. I played with one of them, Bradley [Jennings Jr., a fellow Jacksonville native], and I’ve been watching Wayne [Steed], and [De’Andre] Wilder’s going to be a great addition. With that we already have, I feel like we can do great things. We’ve just got to stay focused.”

Now that you’ve been through a college football season, how hard is it? “It’s very hard. It’s not even the mental part of it. It’s the constant grind on your body. You’ve got it week-in and week-out. In high school usually you can play a game Friday and sit out Saturday and Sunday and let your body recuperate. In college you play on Saturday and you turn around Sunday and you’re in the weight room, on the field running around. I might have a broken hand, I might have a tweaked ankle.

“You’ve got to know how to take care of your body. It’s a lot of maintenance. I’m starting to get massages more, I’m doing more things to take care of my body. … Knowing how to go to sleep, knowing what not to eat. I’m way better. I can thank the coaches for that. It’s the way they set the whole schedule up. You just get used to it. I’m much better at managing my time.”

On his newest tattoo [SAVAGE 56, on his right forearm]: “I got it Notre Dame week. I had my whole arm wrapped up. I got this [points to another tattoo], and then I was like I’m gonna get something else, too. It hurt. Man, it hurt. You know you’ve got to tackle, and you’ve got to wrap up. This thing, it hurts when you tackle. It hurt. I wasn’t trying to throw no forearms. Somebody hit it and I was hollering. I thought I was bleeding.

A big-picture question: why do you play the game? “It’s just something I’ve been loving. I’m a very physical guy. I just want to have fun. It’s another way for me to take care of my family of course. Just the thought of playing and one day getting paid to have fun. It’s a sport everybody wants to do – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s like winning the lottery, man. So, I’m running right now. I’m in a competition, I’m in a race with other people. I just want to be mentioned as one of the greats.”

When your time at Miami is done, what do you want them to say about you? “That no matter what, I never gave up on my team, and no matter what, when the game was on, when it was time to go, that I was going to go.

“That I would compete with anybody. That from day one I didn’t see myself as a freshman. I was a player. Next year I’m not going to see myself as a sophomore, because I’m going to compete with whoever. You a man just like I’m a man. We’ve got to compete. You’ve got to show me what you’re about. I’ve got to prove myself all over again next year.”

Who among the early enrollees impresses you? [Offensive lineman] Navaughn [Donaldson]. Why? “He doesn’t quit. He’s a dog. For real. I see him in the weight room, he’s finishing all of his times in his runs. … At the end of the day, he’s big. For his weight, he’s handling his business. Once he reshapes his body? “He’s going to be a problem. Just got to teach him the playbook. Whatever they need me to do to help him, I’ll do that, too. Because that’s a piece we need to win.

 

 

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