It's been months since Travis Bright left the Las Vegas Bowl on a stretcher, his leg broken seriously enough to require a metal rod be inserted through the bone.
It was discouraging and frustrating and placed a huge cloud on what was a great season for the Cougar offensive guard.
Bright, winner of BYU football's annual strong man competition conducted each June, began 2008 undergoing grueling rehabilitation, running in a pool of water. He obviously is not available for spring football drills, always the reward for football players who just want a chance to make plays on the field.
But that hasn't stopped Bright.
Just over two weeks ago, Bright set a school football record for the bench press, hoisting 540 pounds. It erased the mark by Scott Young, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007. Young set the mark three years ago at 535 pounds and later set an NFL combine record with 43 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press.
Bright's strength surge, although undertaken while he is undergoing off-the-field rehab, is representative of a team-wide spike in weight-room numbers, with many players posting personal bests.
Tackle David Oswald is an example. On the day Bright broke Young's record, Oswald, who has "transformed" his body shape this winter, tied the school record for the hang clean at 416 pounds.
"We had a lot of big numbers out there," said Bright.
Freshman running back J.J. Di Luigi, who is only 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, benched 295 and squatted 500.
"Everyone gathered around. The adrenaline was flowing. Everyone was whooping and hollering, that had to help," he said.
Offensive line coach Mark Weber expects his starting line to bench press over 400 pounds by fall.
"I was there when Travis broke the mark. It was exciting," said Weber.
Bright says spring practice has been depressing since he's been on the sidelines. "You want to be out there."
Bright believes he'll be cleared to do everything required for off-season conditioning by the end of May and he will be totally healed up before the start of fall practice. He isn't sure if he'll try to defend his title as the team's strongest man in June.
"I'll take one thing at a time," he said, "but nobody's ever repeated before."
In the meantime, redshirt freshman Matt Reynolds, more likely a guy suited to play tackle like his older brother, starter Dallas, is playing the right guard position vacated by Bright. Two other linemen, Nick Alleto and Garret Reden, are sitting out contact drills with Bright.
By the time Bright is finished at BYU, he expects to raise his bench press mark to 560 pounds. To give you an idea of how good that is, I'd wager there isn't a football player in the Mountain West Conference who can bench more than 500.
The top guys will post a lot of 470s and 480s, but the 500 mark is magic.
"He's the strongest offensive lineman I've ever coached," said Weber, whose 27-year experience has taken him through the Pac-10, WAC and ACC.
Weber credits BYU's strength and conditioning program, headed by Jay Omer. "Our guys do an unbelievable job working with our athletes," said Weber.
Part of it, the coach explained, is tangible evidence that BYU players have responded to the challenge by Bronco Mendenhall to get better and give more than a year ago.
Weber says he's seen steady improvement from BYU's offensive linemen this spring, which he claims is unusual.
"A lot of times, experienced guys put it on cruise. They've heard it (fundamentals) a million times. But these guys are great young men and want to get better each day. You can see it on tape, and that is exciting. That's one thing coach Mendenhall pushes in the program, for every player in every group to see improvement."
OK, we get it. But does all this spring stuff mean a better football team come September?
"The team has really worked hard in the off-season," said Omer, who doesn't like talking publicly about figures hefted 40 times.
Well, it's a numbers game, one of the few gauges the squad can use to measure progress without a scoreboard.And for Bright, the bench press mark is the brightest football spotlight he's enjoyed for a long time, now that he gets accosted by airport security when metal detectors go off as he passes through.
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