I walked into Mississippi State’s Seal Family Football Complex this morning to meet with “The Juice Guy,” Ryan McNamara.
When we arrived at our meeting place, I laughed when I saw him walk in carrying an actual juice box. A Minute Maid cardboard juice box with a tiny plastic straw.
“McDonald’s was out of orange juice,” he explained through a smile.
MSU’s defensive quality control coordinator, McNamara is the creator – or co-creator, at the last – of ‘juice points,’ one of the talking points of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins’ fall camp.
Juice points, odd as they may sound, are a real thing, awarded for displays of juice, or in different words, enthusiasm and excitement. The points are tracked diligently, breeding a bit of a juice point competition amongst the defensive players.
The idea for it started earlier this summer.
“In the offseason,” McNamara said, “we take a little time to let our minds refresh and get some new perspective.”
In that downtime, a few ideas melded together to become the early stages of the now fully operational juice scale.
The first inspiration came from new cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend. His motto for the corners was adopted by Collins for the entire defense; “When one person makes a play, we all make a play.”
The second portion actually came from Wall Street. Perhaps unlike most in his profession, McNamara was actually in business school in college at Florida.
During his time as a student, his classes studied many current events, including the Enron scandal.
The lesson taught, while it has significantly different applications at MSU, was the inspiration.
“You get what you measure. That’s the first thing we talk about in business,” he said. “CEOs were being measured on stock prices, so they did everything to boost their stock prices.”
So, if they wanted something out of their players, McNamara though, let’s measure it, keep track of it and give something to be working toward. What they wanted to measure was easy. Juice.
“If you want to get something out of your players, measure it and they’ll give it to you,” he said. “I thought it was a silly idea, I didn’t know if it was gonna go over well. I went to Geoff and said, ‘We should measure the enthusiasm players have in practice.’ There’s about 40 guys on defense in practice at any one time, but there’s only 11 guys on the field. You want them to stay engaged and get mental reps.”
McNamara thought he might get rejected, but Collins loved it and decided to go with it.
Calling the enthusiasm and excitement “juice” was a natural fit, both a word and a theme stemming from strength coach Matt Balis and frequently used around the program.
Even when outsiders visit the team, they’re expected to have the same energy.
“If we have a speaker after practice or at a meeting who isn’t talking loud or projecting well,” McNamara said, “the players will yell at them, ‘JUICE! Gotta have more juice!’”
And the idea has worked. Veterans like linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Matt Wells have show more energy than ever, coaches say, and the youngsters have picked up on the concept, too, encouraging their teammates and cheering for them after good plays.
“Yesterday at practice, I saw [sophomore defensive tackle] Quay Evans,” McNamara said. “He had a lot of energy. He was dancing, he was fired up, he was talking to his teammates. [Freshman corner] Gabe Myles has been great. We’ve got a lot of depth at that position so he’s not in a whole lot, but on the sideline, almost every single play he’s talking, he’s hyping guys up, giving energy.”
Just as unique as the idea of juice points is McNamara’s road to MSU.
A year after graduating with his business degree from Florida, McNamara decided he wanted to coach. He had never played football, never been around it any more than an average football fan and he had no experience or training as a coach.
But he had a friend with all of those credentials who told McNamara to come volunteer as a coach at Valdosta State in Georgia. It gave him an opportunity to learn what it was all about and see how things worked.
Eventually, McNamara made contact with another football coach who never played and didn’t start coaching until well after graduating.
Former MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Diaz worked for ESPN when he finished school, but told McNamara about the time he realized what he wanted to do.
“He told me,” McNamara recalled, “he went with someone at ESPN to an interview with Bill Parcells and when he heard him talk about the profession, he thought to himself, ‘I have to get involved in coaching. This is phenomenal. Whatever they’re doing is exciting. That’s what I want to be a part of.’”
McNamara felt the same and the relationship ended up leading to his hiring at MSU when Diaz joined the Bulldogs back in 2010.
Twice helped by older and more experienced coaches, the generosity benefitting McNamara was actually a philosophy each took from former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
“He always told his coaches it’s important to and help younger coaches.”
And so McNamara arrived and his since remained at MSU, bringing a little juice as he does so, both on field with energy and off field with his Minute Maid.