PROVO — This time of the year at every college football camp, you look for something new.
I found an interesting nuance this week when attending the opening session of BYU's fall football camp.
Every Cougar offensive lineman checked in at less than 300 pounds.
I wouldn't say they all looked like action figures from Marvel Comics.
Can't say they have the Rocky Balboa look going.
Can't say this means this unit is going to be a great offensive line because they haven't put on pads and hit anyone yet.
But they do not have marshmallow bodies with protruding bellies. These guys look athletic, they appear to have stamina, they move more efficiently in space, run faster down the field and in short and have morphed into something other than what we've seen in Provo in the past.
These guys are not soft.
This is the result of two things that are new to BYU football this spring and summer.
First, a diet program in which BYU contracted with nutritionist Dan Wilcox. Second, a consulting contract with Athletes' Performance Institute, a private personalized performance institute that routinely prepares collegians for the NFL Combine.
Wilcox created individual player profiles, and API visited and drew up individual workout programs that are supervised by current conditioning coach Jay Omer.
"It's helped. It's helped big time," said linebacker Brandon Ogletree.
"It is Bronco Mendenhall trying to find what will make a difference between winning 10 games in a season and getting over the hump with little details that will push the program past that and beyond."
Things came to a head this past March when three Cougars, who had just finished eligibility, did their pro-day workouts on campus. Mendenhall saw his former center Terence Brown, safety Travis Uale and corner Corby Eason run tests, and they were different physical men from a dozen weeks prior at the Armed Forces Bowl.
They were faster, quicker, more agile and trim. Brown had dumped 38 pounds, and Uale and Eason had put on more than 20, all muscle. Eason was faster and looked like Adonis. Brown ran a 5.03 time in the forty, which was among the top three in the NFL Combine.
Mendenhall decided to look into what they were doing. All had been working out with personal trainer Dave Stroshine of ASAP Sports in Orem, who had also trained Harvey Unga, Fui Vakapuna and Manase Tonga in post-BYU life. He asked Uale what he'd been doing and with who, and Uale told him not only Stroshine helped, but Wilcox made a huge difference.
"Bronco wanted me to get a phone number for Wilcox and text it to him as quick possible. He wanted to revamp the whole program."
Uale said BYU had a nutritionist on campus, but Wilcox knew more about performance nutrition and he explained the details. Mendenhall met with Wilcox, then the entire coaching staff, then the leadership council on his team. He hired Wilcox and sought out API, which was founded by Mark Verstegen in 1999.
Wilcox met with API and traded notes. "A funny thing happened," Stroshine told me on Friday, as I researched the genesis of this new emphasis and direction. "Wilcox and API's folks met. The API guys started explaining their resumes and how many letters they had after their names. Wilcox simply said, 'I'm Dan Wilcox. I get results.' "
Uale said his experience with Wilcox was different than anything he'd ever done. "I've been to a nutritionist who had me eat eight meals a day. But he was different. It was really personalized. Things you don't want in your diet, he won't make you eat. It's all fats, carbs and sugars, and he balances it the right way to meet your goals."
Stroshine said he always knew the importance of nutrition.
"People come to me to get bigger, faster and stronger. I know how important it is to eat the right things. But people don't come to me for that, they don't listen to me. That's where Dan comes in."
So, how did these two link up?
"I had a few clients who had great results back in November and December with Dan. I'd worked with nutritionists before, but it was nothing jaw-dropping. These people who were working with his system of nutrition — it was significant — and I got in touch with Dan."
Both Wilcox and Stroshine had a mutual friend in former BYU defensive end Setema Gali. The common link drew Wilcox and Stroshine together for their clients.
Bottom line, whatever the origin, no matter who might be given the credit, one new thing in BYU's football camp is the health and conditioning of the current players preparing for two-a-days.
Generally speaking, the skill guys have more muscle mass, the big linemen have less body fat and move better.
Whether that gets BYU past 10 wins or not, only time will tell.
But one thing is certain as you watch the Cougars at work on the green field outside the Student Athlete Building: the adventure of working with API and Wilcox is bringing results.