As the incoming players got their first taste of the common drills run by the coaching staff, many were hunched over and out of breath after the drills. These players were learning to acclimate themselves to a full Division I-level practice. Most of the hunched bodies came as a result of completing the famous Bronco Mendenhall pursuit drill.
"That drill was definitely the toughest," said Pendleton. "Man, it was tough enough even doing it a couple of times, but they made us [incoming players] run through it eight times, so yeah, that was pretty brutal."
Pendleton joined his defensive teammates that were hunched over and out of breath, but is fully confident that they'll grown accustomed to the drills and run through them like the seasoned seniors on the defensive side of the ball.
Also running through that and other drills was defensive lineman Eathynn Manumaleuna. For Manumaleuna, the first practice served as a humbling experience.
"Man, I couldn't believe how tough it was out there. I'm exhausted," said Manumaleuna. "I have high goals for myself, so I definitely need to get going. I was just swimming out there with all the stuff, but I'll get the hang of it. I have to in order to reach my goals."
Practices are traditionally toughest on the incoming linemen, as the physical demands of a Mendenhall-administered practice are a far cry from what they underwent in high school. Meanwhile, incoming players like J.J. DiLuigi took it in stride.
"I'm sort of used to intense practices because of where I played," said DiLuigi. "I knew what to expect and prepared for it well, so yeah, it wasn't anything I didn't expect or couldn't handle. Guys like Harv [Harvey Unga] and Fui [Vakapuna] prepared me well, as did Coach Reynolds. Nothing was unlike [what] they told me it would be like, so I really appreciate that."
For most incoming freshmen, riding the pine while using up a redshirt year is not the immediate plan coming in. Football players want to play and contribute wherever they can. Such is the case for this class of incoming freshmen.
"Oh, I definitely want to play," said Brannon Brooks. "I feel that I did well today and I'm confident after one day of practice that I have what it takes. I can compete at this level. Now I have three weeks to show them what I can do and I plan on doing exactly that. I want to play."
Brooks will be competing for a spot on the two-deep roster at cornerback. Meanwhile, Manumaleuna will be competing for a spot in the regular nose tackle rotation along with expected starter Russell Tialavea.
"I don't just want to back up the position, I want to start," said Manumaleuna. "That's the mentality I have. I have big goals for myself and I know that there is a spot open. I'm determined to get that open spot and that's what I'm all about. I'll do whatever it takes, but I have a long way to go. I plan on not taking a practice off. I have to get better every day."
The expectations for some incoming freshmen are very high. None are higher than the fans' expectations of Canyon High phenom J.J. DiLuigi. After the first day of practices, DiLuigi feels that he's working well in proving that he'll contribute heavily toward the offensive success of the Cougars this coming season.
"I feel confident," said DiLuigi. "I'm completely healthy and I really feel great. If anything, I think this first practice proved that I can compete and contribute. I'm confident in my abilities and I was coming in. Nothing today changed that."
A Day Off
Unlike most starts of the fall practice regimen, the players will have a full day off before getting ready to compete again with a reference point taken from the first day. Just about all incoming players interviewed are thankful for the day off, as they'll use it to adjust.
"I'm glad we have a day off. I'll use it, trust me," said Pendleton while laughing. "I mean, I did alright, but it's an adjustment and having a day to think about the first day and rest up a bit will certainly help. I'll be very anxious to get out there on Monday, I'm sure."
"It's good to have that day," said Brooks. "There are a few things that I felt I could have done better and will go over it a lot between now and Monday. We'll all be more ready to compete come Monday."
During the first day of practices the savvy veterans were casually noting the overall abilities of their new cohorts. A lot of the time is spent helping the new players out, and as a whole the veterans were impressed with the incoming players.
"I like these guys," said senior linebacker Bryan Kehl. "There were certainly guys who stood out and I can tell right away that they're going to be big-time players. But yeah, I'm impressed with how most of them came in. I think they're really going to help us this year and in the years to come."
"That's really all we can do right now," said DiLuigi, speaking of how the true freshmen can warrant playing time. "Just do whatever we're asked, not take reps off and work as hard as we can. That's what I aim to do and the best will come because of it. Hard work, that's what we all need to be about."