PROVO Last Monday, one day after returning from a vacation to Mexico with his wife, BYU quarterback Max Hall showed up at the team's practice facilities at 6:30 a.m., as usual, to continue his rigorous summer workouts.
"I feel refreshed and ready to go," Hall said. "I feel a little out of shape, though. I think I ate too many tacos."
Hall and his teammates are making a final push in the weight room and on the practice field before reporting for fall camp on Aug. 1, with official practices beginning on Aug. 2. The Cougars open the season Aug. 30 against Northern Iowa.
Nearly all of BYU's players have remained in Provo for the summer to stay in shape and hone their football skills. With just weeks remaining until fall camp starts, there is a sense of urgency in the air.
"A couple of weeks ago, the coaches told us that if we were going to take a vacation, now's the time to do it," Hall said. "We knew we needed to come back July 7 ready to work. Vacations are over. We've got to bear down and really focus on having a successful season. That's the mindset of the team. I can't wait until fall camp. I want to play football again. I love that time of year, being around the guys. It can't come fast enough."
As per NCAA rules, summer workout participation by college football players must be voluntary. But the players understand that for them, attending these workouts are, unofficially, mandatory.
"The coaches expect us to be there (for workouts) and so do your teammates," Hall said. "If I go to workouts and a receiver or lineman isn't there, we'll call them to find out where they are. Attendance has been awesome. We have a chance to have a special year, and we all understand that. I'm thinking about the season every day and the potential of what we can accomplish. We're very motivated. As soon as spring ball ended, coach (Bronco) Mendenhall told us we needed to get better over the summer."
The Cougars have posted back-to-back 11-2 seasons and claimed consecutive Mountain West Conference championships. Now they have their sights on earning a Bowl Championship Series berth.
"Coach Mendenhall reminded us every day last spring that it took a lot to get here and it's going to take a lot more to get to the next level," said defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. Since the end of spring ball in mid-April, BYU players have worked out under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer four times a week. NCAA rules state that Omer, who ensures that each player under his watch is in tip-top shape for the upcoming season, is the only member of the coaching staff who can observe these workouts. No footballs can be used as part of the drills.
Skill-position players also get together on their own for 7-on-7 drills, but no coaches, not even Omer, can be present for those.
"We do 7-on-7 twice a week, though now we're going to start doing it three times a week," Hall said. "I organize it and make sure we get everybody there."
For most players, football season never really ends.
"Football season is year-round," Jorgensen said. "It can get a little monotonous during the off-season without a game to look forward to. The conditioning is hard. That's the only part that's not fun. It's hard when you don't have a game for a few months. But it becomes easier the closer we get to the season."
Omer's conditioning program is grueling and it is designed to get the players in their optimal playing condition for when they begin practicing again in August.
"It's rough," Hall said of the conditioning regimen. "On any given day, you'll see guys throwing up during workouts. Coach Omer pushes us and we push ourselves. We have little competitions to make it more exciting. After an hour-and-a-half of intense lifting, we run. We do things like run 300-yard shuttles. It's a tough three-hour workout. We're working our tails off. Coach Omer has told us that our team's in the best shape of any team he's been around here."
While many of the players don't take academic classes during this time of year, they find other ways to keep themselves busy. Jorgensen, for instance, works at a marketing company. He also attends an off-campus boxing class.
"There are similarities between playing on the defensive line and boxing," Jorgensen said, noting that NFL star Shawne Merriman took up boxing years ago. "It helps with hand-fighting, punching and speed.
It's fun to punch a bag for an hour."
Hall spends some of his free time working for Dish Network at a call center to earn some extra spending money. Do people ever ask when the Dish Network will carry the Mtn.?
"Yeah, a couple of people have asked me that," Hall said with a laugh. "It's a fun job."
Both Hall and Jorgensen enjoy camping out in the film room as often as they can.
"I like to watch film of our upcoming opponents, but I mostly watch myself from last year," Jorgensen said. "I also like to watch (NFL) guys like Jared Allen, Michael Strahan and Chris Long (the No. 2 pick in last April's NFL draft). It's good to watch the guys who are the best at what they do."
"I've watched it all," Hall said of his film sessions. "I've watched all my games from last year. With technology being what it is, I can look at selected plays, like all of my third-and-long plays and plays when I was blitzed so I can learn how to pick up on blitzes better. I've also watched all of John Beck's games from 2006 and all the opponents for this season. If you want to be good, you have to watch film. Getting better comes with repetition. I try to do it every day."
Hall likes what he's seen out of his teammates during the summer.
"We have so many guys that are proven leaders like Jan Jorgensen, David Nixon, Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta, Harvey Unga and Mike Reed," he said. "The group I'm most impressed with has to be the offensive line. Those guys are working their tails off. We could have the best O-line in the nation. They're studs."
With expectations so high the Cougars are appearing in numerous pre-season national polls Jorgensen said his team needs to guard against overconfidence. "We have a confident team. We've had a lot of success lately. We know what it takes to have success and we know what it takes to exceed what we did before. The only thing I worry about is being overconfident."
Hall said he's not concerned about overconfidence because of the way he and his teammates are working this summer. "If we weren't working so hard, I would be worried about being overconfident," he explained."But guys are showing up every day, working hard. We understand we have to work for what we get. We open the season against Northern Iowa, a game everybody expects you to win. They're a good team. We have to be careful not to get overconfident. Any team can get overconfident and people saw what happened to Michigan last year (losing its season-opener at home against Appalachian State). We can't get lackadaisical. We just need to keep working hard, like we've been doing."