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Dick Harmon: Bright & early: Bronco Mendenhall says 6 a.m. starts will benefit team, players

Published: Saturday, Aug. 9 2014 4:50 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, Aug. 9 2014 6:50 p.m. MDT

The BYU Cougars practice at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday Aug. 9, 2014.

Mark A. Philbrick

Benjamin Franklin once said, “The early morning has gold in its mouth.”

Thomas Jefferson told folks the sun hadn’t caught him in bed in 50 years.

Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

For the 2014 season, BYU is going to challenge the sun. Football players will report at 6 a.m., and be done when other students are having breakfast.

BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall hopes switching to early morning practices will produce fewer academic disruptions, get players into high demand classes for their majors and enhance most aspects of his operation in a more timely manner.

Hopefully, that will include wins.

“We’re looking to squeeze all the ability, growth and improvement out of our program as possible,” said Mendenhall, “and with BYU’s academic standards increase and admission to BYU becomes harder and harder, we’re running into more and more class conflicts in the afternoons. As we’re working to get as much out of our program as possible, having key players miss afternoon practices isn’t good for the player or the team.”

Also, a lot of players found they couldn’t get into classes required for their majors, in particular, physical education classes, a popular major with players who want to get into coaching.

“That was my major. We haven’t been able to have physical education majors from among our players since I’ve been the coach,” he said. Even if it addresses just 10 players, Mendenhall said it is worth it.

So, Mendenhall studied a host of “select” major college football programs. He chatted with coaches he respected. He tried to find out all he could about the impact of early morning practice sessions. He studied how it would affect the body, what it would do to practice, team meetings, diet, sleep and about everything one could imagine. He consulted a sports psychologist, nutritionist, academic folks and a bevy of others.

None of the coaches said it adversely impacted their programs. They did tell the BYU coach it made the start of the week, Monday and Tuesday, very tough for coaches.

Mendenhall believes it will be even tougher for his staff and players, especially on Tuesday, because BYU’s coaching staff does not hold meetings or practice on Sunday. In this regard, nobody has attempted what BYU is going to do.

“Mondays will be tough, but Tuesday morning practices will be the toughest because our coaches will have to have everything ready and it will take a great effort. The good news is that they will primarily be done on Thursdays at 3:30 and recover and find family time.”

Mendenhall targeted this early in spring, beginning offseason conditioning workouts at 7 a.m. for players so when the 6 a.m. call comes to prepare for the UConn game and the season opener, the adjustment would be minimal.

Another factor he believes could be a strength is the squad has a high percentage of athletes who served LDS missions and are used to an early morning lifestyle.

“It will be difficult and I expect some transition.”

New NCAA rules allow Mendenhall to push snacks and food at players at 6 a.m. when the team gathers for a meeting.

“I can look at them in the eye and wake them up if they need to be awakened. There will be a seating chart so we’ll know who is missing and address it. I have a chance to set the tone before special team and position meetings.

“I think we’ll be ready, but right now we’re going off speculation of what research has told us.”

Having no mandated Sunday prep by BYU coaches could throw a wrench into this morning format. “Who knows, I may feel different. But I think we can pull it off.”

Mendenhall is known for trying different things to get an edge. This may or may not give the Cougars that edge, only the season will tell. Mendenhall will know quickly the week after his team gets back from playing UConn in New Haven and prepares for Austin and the Texas Longhorns.

If Mendenhall gets to post-Husky Tuesday morning and finds film cutouts are lacking, scouting reports are incomplete and position groups are unprepared to focus on work at hand, he’ll absolutely know it by lunch.

Someone once said, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up, it knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle … when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

One thing’s for sure with BYU’s football players this fall, if they get into a 2 a.m. Netflix movie session, they won’t will be running anywhere at all.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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