Passing the Torch: Dan Mozes Pays it Forward in the Weight Room

By Leah Howard, U-M Athletic Media Relations

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Dan Mozes has been there. The newest member of the Schembechler Hall strength staff, he knows a thing or two about the effort and commitment required to survive the Michigan training regimen. He knows about the early-morning workouts and the grueling conditioning sessions, about working to total exhaustion and losing all control over his body. In fact, Mozes might just be the ultimate poster boy for the benefit of Mike Barwis' strength and conditioning program. So, perhaps it's fitting that he's now coaching within it, teaching the same principles and techniques that made him such an immovable force on the playing field.

A consensus All-American and 2006 Rimington Award winner as the nation's top center, Mozes was a four-year starter at West Virginia (2003-06), spending two years at left guard before moving to center, where he contributed to the Mountaineers' back-to-back 11-win seasons. He earned All-Big East first team honors in each of his final three seasons, and during that acclaimed senior campaign, he helped guide an offense that ranked among the nation's top five in rushing, scoring and total offense.

But what made Mozes' rise to collegiate greatness that much more impressive were his modest beginnings. In a day when star rankings and offer sheets seem to carry supreme weight and provide the greatest indication of worthiness, Mozes wasn't a highly-touted prospect. A lowly two star, who could count his scholarship offers on one hand, he was labeled as being too small for big-time college football. But he was given an opportunity at West Virginia, about an hour south from his home in Washington, Pa., and from day one, Mozes set out to prove his detractors wrong.

It started in the weight room, where every day he paid the price, did the job and set the standard for hard work. With special mention to head coach Rich Rodriguez and his line coach, Rick Trickett, Mozes credits Barwis' training program as the primary contributor to his upswing.

"Mike gave me the fundamentals to get bigger and stronger," said Mozes. "He gave me the strength to do all that stuff. Coming out of high school nobody wanted me, and I had that chip on my shoulder. That's really the first thing you need to have. People always want to throw in external motivation, pep talks and stuff like that, but you have to be motivated from your own heart. That's one thing I had. Mike gave me the tools."

Coming off the success of his college career, Mozes had high hopes for a similar showing in the NFL. But he never got his chance to gain any traction. Just a week into his first training camp with the Minnesota Vikings, Mozes tore his anterior cruciate ligament -- along with two meniscuses -- while making a tackle during a scrimmage against Kansas City. He would be placed on injured reserve and miss the entire 2007 season.

Unless you're an instant marquee star, the life of an up-and-coming NFL player is a stressful one. Mozes went to work every day without knowing if his job would still be there or if he'd be there the next day. He went to work fearing a knock on the door and the request that he hand over his playbook. When that knock did come last August, Mozes wasn't terribly surprised, but he also wasn't deterred. He continued to train in Barwis' weight room, picking up internship hours to pass the time, while still hoping for a phone call from an interested team. When nothing came, he decided it was time to move on with his life.

That decision corresponded with -- or perhaps was aided by -- an opening in Michigan's weight staff.

He had first developed an interest in strength and conditioning during his collegiate years and expressed to Barwis his desire to come back and coach alongside his mentor. But that was when they were at West Virginia, his alma mater. Barwis and company had since moved shop to Ann Arbor, where Mozes had no similar ties and no similar loyalties. He didn't need to follow; nobody would have faulted him. But for Mozes, in a lot of respects, the decision was like coming home.

"Those are the guys I was surrounded by for five years of my life when I was in school," said Mozes. "That made me comfortable, and that's one of the reasons I decided to come up here. All of these guys here are my family. Mike is like a father figure to me. Chris [Allen] is my brother; Cassandra [Baier] is my sister. The only thing that's different is they've moved locations. When they were at West Virginia, they were my family. The family moved to Michigan, so I just moved with the family."

Six months into his life as an assistant strength coach, Mozes still has a lot to learn. An Academic All-American and four-time Big East All-Academic selection at West Virginia, Mozes' communications degree hasn't provided a whole lot of help with his current career path. So, he's returned to the books, learning the system in reverse. He doesnt need any help with the practical application -- he lived it for the better part of the last decade -- it's studying the science and understanding the principles behind the application that now occupy much of his time at work.

"I only took one science class in college -- I think it was geology," said Mozes. "So, I'm not going to lie, it's not easy picking up the science. But at the same time, all those years that I was under Mike, he was teaching me, and I was able to pick up certain things along the way. I could teach a power clean off of instincts. It's natural to me; I'm so used to doing it. I'm learning about the science now, which is a bit rough. Being able to learn all that stuff from the fundamentals -- that's where I have to start."

"Dan Mozes probably has more exposure and understanding of the movements and drills than people who have coached it for 20 years because he did it every day," said Barwis. "He's a tremendous strength coach. He has a great ability to show kids how to do things and explain why we do things and how it relates to football. He's a high-energy, explosive and passionate guy, and his work ethic is outstanding. Dan Mozes is what Dan Mozes is, and he's going to be that way in any job that he chooses. If he wanted to be a typist, he'd be the best damn typist around, because he goes as hard as he can. That's just who he is. At West Virginia, he was disciplined and driven. He did what he had to do to be successful and made himself into a great player. That environment that made him a great athlete is the same environment that he produces for another athlete."

Barwis is big on environment. The venerated coach has a lot of sayings and a lot of theories, but here's one of his favorites: you emulate your surroundings. If you surround yourself with low-energy people who don't want to do anything, then you're going to be lazy. Surround yourself with people who want to get into trouble, then, sooner or later, you're probably going to get into trouble. But if you surround yourself with high-energy, passionate people, who are excited about life, want to learn and possess an attitude for success, then you're inevitably going to follow suit. In working alongside Mozes, the Wolverine players have an opportunity to interact with a living, breathing success story, who carries with him the reward for hard work within the program.

Years later, he laughs while recounting a few of his own personal weight-room horror stories, like the day Barwis put him through a personal leg-press workout only to climb on top of the machine already full with weight plates -- a move that sent Mozes running to the trashcan. But, in the next breath, he speaks of missing those days -- the days when he was in the best shape of his life and when he first learned the true meaning of toughness and pushing through the pain.

"I think it's hard for some athletes to respect a person unless they've gone through it," said Mozes, "and I went through it for five years of my life. I was where these guys are, and I came in with the mentality every day that it was going to make me strong and make me better. Being able to come here, answer some questions and share some of my own experiences with the guys, I think it helps them. Whenever they get down or something isn't going right, I can relate to them and say I've done that."

"When I was being recruited, I would watch games of the places that I visited," said U-M junior/sophomore center David Molk, himself a member of the 2009 Rimington Award Watch List. "I was recruited pretty heavily by West Virginia, and Mozes was their center at the time. So, I'd watch him a lot. Now I ask him questions all the time, and he'll give me advice about working out, how to take my steps and judging linebackers -- all sorts of technical things like that. He's done everything I want to do -- two-time All-American, Rimington Award winner, went to the pros -- so, it's great to have him here."

And with the 2009 season just on the horizon, Mozes is excited to be here. He's experienced a lot through his life in football -- wins, losses, injuries and accolades -- but this fall will bring a new experience -- his first season not as a player but as a coach.

"The thing you miss about football isn't really the playing aspect," said Mozes. "It's the team aspect, the camaraderie and just being around the guys. As a strength staff, we have that here. We have our own little unit and our own little team. I'm actually really looking forward to my new role as a coach. You'd be surprised how your body takes a beating after years of never missing a game or a practice or a rep. Now I get to sit back and teach these kids the knowledge that I've accumulated as a player and the knowledge I'm gaining every day as a strength coach."

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