This offseason a harbinger of things to come?

IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN, says David Lang, Washington State's Director of Strength and Conditioning. Right here and now, this offseason, out on the Palouse. And Lang, who has been at Washington State since 1998, has witnessed it only twice before.

The first time was in football, prior to the 2001-2003 run of three straight 10-win seasons and final Top 10 poll rankings. The second was in basketball, leading up to the Cougs' two straight NCAA Tourney appearances via No. 3 and No. 4 seedings in 2007 and 2008.

Those teams of yesteryear were built from (and inspired by) a younger base. And that, says Lang, is what's happening right now with the Cougs.

"The thing that has really struck me right now is the freshman group especially (sophomores-to-be)," said Lang. "These kids come in here and they are absolutely on fire. I don't want to say they've motivated the older kids, but there is certainly some infectious training going on right now.

"The older kids are getting after it as well, don't get me wrong. But the younger kids..everything is possible to them and I've dealt with this before in football and in men's basketball. Daven Harmeling was part of a group who believed they could do whatever. And they trained that same way."

LANG ISN'T GOING overboard, he isn't predicting sudden greatness on the field this coming year nor a specific number of wins. But 12 years of experience at WSU has shown him similarities, some strikingly so, to what he saw occur leading up to two great runs in both the football and basketball programs.

"It's comparable to what happened when coach Oviatt got these guys going (in 2000-01). He had those kids really believing -- it was a 'We can and will do this,' attitude -- as did the football coaches," said Lang.

Strength and conditioning coaches, Lang says, actually spend more time with the football players year-round than do the football coaches because of NCAA rules and regulations limiting coaches during the offseason. As such, one player he got to know well was Jason David.

Don't underestimate the role nutrition plays
Lang says some strength coaches take credit for natural physiological gains experienced in an athlete from age 18-22. During those years, a student-athlete naturally gets bigger. But what WSU has done under Wulff and Lang is revamp an important component of the process.

"We had a bunch of young, young kids across the board when coach Wulff came in. Now this team is getting older, infused with training and coupled with the better nutrition program that we have currently, I'm seeing a size difference in these kids across the board," said Lang.

Lang notes that B.J. Guerra was never a skinny freshman in the same way Rien Long was when he arrived.

"But looking at him now, wow, he looks like a legit Pac-10 offensive lineman. He is beastly in that way," said Lang.

What's helped Guerra and others like him get there is taking ownership of what they eat, and when. Helping them accomplish that, Lang says, is that WSU now has a more developed nutritional program in place and a full time nutritionist.

"You can train like a mad person. You can be the hardest training person in the world. But if you don't eat, if you don't sleep and if you don't recover properly, you're going to be dead in the water. In teaching the muscle to fire and do what you need it to do, nutrition is huge in that regard. "

DAVID EARNED THE nickname of Juice while at WSU. More than any other, he was the one in winter workouts jumping around and hollering at 5:30 a.m., getting everyone else pumped up. David has long since graduated but a successor appears to be firmly in place at WSU. And he's doing the same 5:30 a.m. show.

"There's another kid like that here now, Jamal Atofau. You're almost at points where it's, 'Alright, Jamal. We're just stretching right now.' It's a pretty cool thing to see. That freshman group especially, sophomores as well, and the older guys. This team right now, they don't care what has happened the last two years."

BEYOND THAT, LANG is reluctant to single out any of the Cougars' top performers this offseason.

"It's really hard to say because there are so many of them. Right now, they're all working towards the same thing and they're all really jacked up about it. Training is really just a process. Jamal stands out because he's very verbal. But there are many other people," said Lang.

When pressed, Lang talks about a recent workout.

"(Jared) Karstetter and (Marshall) Lobbestael the other morning were doing these extra things. We're getting kids in here now that are spending that extra time, beyond what we do NCAA-wise. They're doing it on their own, the little things that are going to make this program turn. James Montgomery, with him coming back, it's amazing to see James do what he's doing," said Lang.

Andrew Roxas, sidelined last year by a bout with viral hepatitis, has also been turning heads.

"The kid's a cardio machine to a certain extent. He's looking really good and I think he's going to be an impact player. Strength-wise, it's really coming back," said Lang.

DARIN LOVAT IS Lang's head strength and conditioning coach for football. Lang says Lovat is consistent and structured, something the players have benefitted from.

"One thing that Darin does have is the trust of that coaching staff. Coach Lovat does a lot of things very, very well. And the other person in this mix is Marco Candido. He's the No. 1 assistant in football, the position I was in for years with coach Oviatt...There's a really good balance between he and Darin, they complement each other and they've really brought some things forward training-wise," said Lang.

PAUL WULFF HAS said repeatedly this offseason the Cougs are poised to take a big leap this year, and then another big leap the year after that. Many mornings, before the sun rises, Lang sees that process playing out.

"These guys are drenched with sweat by the time they finish," said Lang. "They're starting to understand, 'If we want to win, similar to 2001-03, we need to be like the Billy Newman's of the world, grab onto this team and say this is what we've got to do. If you don't want to be here, go. Get out.'

"That's the feeling I'm starting to get from this team. Any of the stragglers, any of the kids who aren't buying in, they're slowly being ostracized by the kids who are. I've seen it in basketball here. And this is the second coming around for football that I've seen it here. It's a neat thing."

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