Practice Turning From Work Into Fun

After a two-day layoff, the Cougars suited up in full pads and gathered inside the indoor practice facility to go to work. In front of a large crowd of high school coaches along the sidelines, the Cougar offense and defense put on a show resembling a team having more fun rather than grudging through a tough day of practice.

The message has come down from the top to the assistant coaches, and it's a message that's been well received by the players. Coach Mendenhall has given instruction to his assistant coaches to make sure that while the players are developing within the program, they are to do one thing and that is have fun.

"Every day we have a team meeting with the defense," said safety Jray Galea'i. "Right after that meeting we go into team meetings into our own little room. Our coach always has a little lecture for us. Today, the message was we have to have fun playing football and stop thinking so much and just go out there and make plays. And that's all we've been doing is just following our coaches' words."

"Coach Mendenhall is allowing the kids to have a great time and we as coaches are allowing them to have a good time," Coach Doman said with a smile. "You can't play this game [and] not try and have fun. I mean for heaven sakes, if you can't have fun playing then go do something else. I'm not interested in coaching this game if I can't have fun either, and so what we're seeing now are the results of things coming together, the players knowing the drills and what to do and now just go out and playing football."

There has been a noticeable transformation in the team's disposition from the start of spring camp to Friday's practice. The intensity of the daily drills has not diminished in the least, but the difference now is the players are having a lot more fun doing it. Cougar quarterback James Lark explains.

"I felt we had a really good practice today out there both offensively and defensively," he said. "As we've gotten more into spring ball the guys have enjoyed it more. The guys are getting better and they're feeling good about what they're accomplishing out on the field. On top of that they're realizing this is just football and they're having fun. Everyday we're a little more excited because every day we're a little better and a little closer. Every day our goal is to get better and I really felt like we did that today, and that's fun."

Heated competition among players usually stirs an atmosphere of negativity, but what has happened among this team is quite the opposite.

"There's more depth, more youth and more competition and we're just better," said Doman. "I would say that would be one thing about why this team is the way it is. There's a lot of competition going on, and when that competition begins to mold itself within the team, the more success they have has brought out more support and that becomes fun."

Defensive lineman Matt Putnam agrees with Coach Doman's team assessment.

"When all the individual parts come together like today happens, that when it's a lot of fun," Putnam said. "People get all excited and are happy to be here. I think part of it is just wanting to be here and wanting to be at practice and having fun doing it. I think a lot of why everyone is having fun is because everyone is just happy to be here. It's just fun for everybody to be out here at practice and that's the big difference."

The players have also had more fun as they've become more familiar with what's going on.

"The other thing is the players know the groove and they know what we're doing in practice every day," Coach Doman said. "We're the same guys in the same system. I think the familiarity and the consistency of what's going on has kind of translated over into a real intensity. Quite frankly, they're all just having a real great time and having a lot of fun out there."

"All of us players go in and watch film as a team before we would go run, practice or anything without any coaches around," said Galea'i. "We're really developing a lot of unity and communication between us as players, and I think a lot of that preparation has led us to knowing the game which leads us to having more fun."

There were hundreds of high school coaches, both in and out of Utah, attending BYU's coaches clinic this week. What they saw, when it came time for them to witness BYU's program philosophy in action, was an intense Cougar team being effective and efficient all while wrapped up in excitement.

"Today's practice was just really up-tempo because everyone is having fun," said Galea'i. "When you're having fun the competition level increases and the game gets faster. As spring goes along, everybody begins to know everything. That's why I think the tempo has increased over spring ball. We're now playing more as a team and that's been the greatest improvement I've seen over spring. Nobody cares who's first-team or second-team or who's in or not. Once somebody goes into the game, everybody supports that player and is having a lot of fun supporting that person."

From an offensive perspective, the level of fun has increased with the symmetry that's developed between the quarterbacks and receivers. Players are breaking on their routes and the ball is being placed on target and on time.

"The greatest improvement I've seen from the offensive side of the ball is our offense is just clicking more," Lark said. "With our receivers we're understanding each other better and our chemistry is better. Our offensive line is looking better and better every day and they're finding that chemistry between them and it's looking great. I think everyone is kind of seeing how all the hard work is paying off and it's becoming more fun for everyone."

"The offense is doing a lot better and you can tell the guys over there are really coming together," Putnam said. "I think they're having more success and aren't thinking about things as much, and because of that it now gets to the point where they can just go out and play football rather than have to learn what's going on. When you don't have to think about it but can just go out and play, it's always fun."

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