When you finish 4-8 the previous season and get picked to finish last in your league, there's no time to waste. So after officially reporting to campus Wednesday, Strong welcomed his players back to practice with a 6 a.m. session on the practice fields adjacent to PJCS.
Strong, who helped Florida win two BCS titles as defensive coordinator, clearly believes in the philosophy that the early bird gets the worm.
"I had to go to bed early so I could wake up and be ready for practice," junior wide receiver Doug Beaumont said.
While the early start took a little getting to used to, junior defensive lineman Greg Scruggs said he liked starting practice before the crack of dawn.
"I was pumped this morning," Scruggs said. "Waking up at 5:00 was [tough], but I had my music blasting in the car and I came in with a little bounce in my step. We're ready to get going."
Victor Anderson, who was held out of contact during the spring, reported to practice ready to go. He said it was great to be back on the field instead of watching the action from the sidelines.
"It feels great to be back out here with my team," Anderson said. "It feels great to be back practicing. I'm ready to go.
Anderson thought Louisville's first practice of the season went well.
"It was [an] uptempo [practice]," Anderson said. "I got up at 4:30 and got me a little breakfast to let it digest so I wouldn't throw it up. But overall I think today went well. We'll go in and watch film, guys are going to see where they messed up and we're going to correct mistakes."
"Guys came out and moved around well," Strong said. "It's great to be back out and the excitement. We just want to improve each day. We felt like we made some progress in the spring so we hope we can continue that progress today. We want to see what kind of team we have. It's all about fundamentals and guys have to understand that we're working to get better with our fundamentals."
That was a point that Strong emphasized in pre-practice meetings Wednesday evening – the first day the players officially reported to campus.
"The main focus today was to come out, go through the fundamentals and get everything down and be crisp in practice," Anderson said. "As we install more plays we'll pick up the tempo, but today was going through the fundamentals and getting everyone on the same page."
"We wanted to get the kinks out, work on our fundamentals and get ready for the next practice," added Beaumont.
Surprisingly, a large crowd turned out for the early morning practice. Conservative estimates put the crowd at 400-500, though the crowd did thin out toward the end of practice as many fans had to get to work.
"It's great but there's a lot of passion and enthusiasm here from the fans," Strong said. "The fans here are unbelievable and I expected there would be some people show up this morning, which is great for our players."
Several players expressed appreciation to fans for showing up for practice.
"It was impressive for that many people to be out that early to watch us practice," Anderson said.
"It was exciting to see that we have the fan support that we do," added Beaumont.
One other interesting note, or more accurately, statement, from Anderson.
"Louisville is back," Anderson said. "We're back."
"Guys have come back, we're uptempo and you can tell everyone is excited about the game now. Everyone is willing to work and we had a great summer."
Though Strong and the new coaching staff have given Anderson renewed confidence, the junior running back senses a new attitude from his teammates.
"A lot comes from the head coach, but we've got to be confident from within," Anderson said. "That's the reason I say we're back. We've got to come together as a group and be confident. For me to say we're back, I have a lot of confidence in my team. I respect my team, I feel they'll have my back and I'll have their back. We've just got to come out every day and work hard."
Beaumont, who missed out on bowl games his first three seasons, also sounded a confident tone as practice got underway Thursday morning.
"I'm very confident," Beaumont said. "We had a long summer and worked very hard together and became pretty close. I think it's going to carry over into the season."
The two biggest questions at the first practice: What about Demar Dorsey and Jordan Campbell? Louisville officials gave no formal update on either player, though InsideTheVille.com confirmed that Dorsey is not on campus yet. Also, Louisville fans should not expect to see Campbell at UofL any time soon. He still has some "issues" to clear up at USC. Perhaps the earliest he might be able to arrive in Louisville would be mid-August.
While newcomers won't practice until this afternoon, two new additions, JUCO WR Josh Bellamy and Nevada CB transfer Mike Evans practiced with the veterans this morning. Bellamy fielded punts before practice and was very impressive during skeleton passing drills. Expect him to play right away. "Bellamy worked hard over the summer and I can tell that he has the talent to play wide receiver," Beaumont said.
Josh Chichester did not practice this morning with the vets. He will practice this afternoon with newcomers at his new position, tight end.
Randy Salmon, who finished spring ball No. 1 on the depth chart at defensive tackle, did not practice. He was dressed and on the field watching practice. He has a minor foot injury but word, but is expected back before the season opener against Kentucky.
Sources told InsideTheVille.com that Dominique Brown reported in great shape yesterday and ran well during the team run. He measured 6'2, 215.
An incredible stat for Charlie Strong. All signees except DeAntre Rhodes are academically eligible to play this season.
Running back Jeremy Wright warmed up before Thursday's practice but is not full go at this point. He had off-season hernia surgery.
Louisville started practice with 78 or 79 scholarship players. Teams are allowed 85.
Greg Scruggs on his transition from DE to DT: "It's been a little rough because you have to focus on your technique a little more than you do at defensive end," Scruggs said. "I think I've adjusted well but I still have a lot of work to do to be where I need to help the team. I'll keep working."
Victor Anderson said he was excited about the freshmen running backs and wide receivers. "Actually, I'm excited about the entire class," Anderson said. "They're a great group of guys, they're working hard in the weight room and running this summer. They're an impressive group of guys."
Anderson on the offensive line: "They look great. They've slimmed up and they've been working hard. They worked they're butts off to get faster and quicker."