PULLMAN – It’s hard to miss.
After an offseason spent sweating and straining, there is a new look to many of the Washington State University football players.
Some, such as offensive lineman Joe Eppele and defensive end Kevin Kooyman, have gained weight, putting on the muscle they’ll need to battle in the Pac-10 trenches. Others, such as defensive tackle Josh Luapo and center Kenny Alfred, have shed weight to increase their quickness and stamina. And everyone seems to have muscled up, improving strength and conditioning.
“We are in great, great physical shape,” assistant head coach Chris Ball said after Monday’s practice, the second, and last, WSU has scheduled in helmets, shorts and T-shirts to open camp. “They’ve earned the right to be tough because of the offseason conditioning program they had.”
The players, and other coaches, are quick to credit second-year head strength coach Darin Lovat and his assistants for their improvements, using phrases that usually include the word “push.”
“He just pushed us to the limit,” said senior running back Dwight Tardy of the summer regimen Lovat initiated this year. “He pushes us above and beyond. When I think I’m done, we’ve still got tons of stuff to do. Your body feels like it wants to quit and you can never quit. You just keep going and going.
“Lovat pushes us to a point of no return almost.”
“I might as well worked out with Pop Warner compared to up here,” said Luapo, who entered WSU last spring after two seasons of junior college football.
The praise is nice, Lovat acknowledges, but he knows the truth. All he can do is supply the framing lumber; it’s up to the players to build the house.
“It just comes down to work,” he said. “Kids just willing to put the work in. As far as what we do … it’s nothing different than maybe what they are doing over across the state or at Oregon. We’re doing a lot of the same things. It’s just kids collectively wanting to put forth the effort to get better.”
In that, senior leaders such as Tardy played a key role.
“He was committed to the cause,” Lovat said. “Most of our core group of upperclassmen, the guys we are depending on for leadership, were all here with our early group at 5:45 a.m. every day. He did an outstanding job of that.”
“You’ve got to push yourself every day,” said Tardy, who feels he’s physically healed from the knee injury he suffered as a sophomore. “The injury made me realize the game could be taken away from me any time. So every rep is my last rep.”
Weightlifting and conditioning are just part of a formula, Lovat said, that includes nutritional guidance and training support. For someone like Luapo, those aspects were crucial.
“I let myself slide a little bit,” admitted the 6-foot, now 311-pound Luapo, who says he was well on the other side of 320 last spring. “I didn’t really come prepared. Coach Lovat, he switched that up real quick.
“I really had no choice. But I didn’t mind because I knew I had to get into shape to play Pac-10 football.”