Dick Harmon: Bright & early: Bronco Mendenhall says 6 a.m. starts will benefit team, players

By Dick Harmon, Deseret News

Published: Sat, Aug. 9, 2014, 4:50 p.m. MDT

 The BYU Cougars practice at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday Aug. 9, 2014.

The BYU Cougars practice at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday Aug. 9, 2014.

(Mark A. Philbrick)

Benjamin Franklin once said, “The early morning has gold in its mouth.”

Thomas Jefferson told folks the sun hadn’t caught him in bed in 50 years.

Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

For the 2014 season, BYU is going to challenge the sun. Football players will report at 6 a.m., and be done when other students are having breakfast.

BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall hopes switching to early morning practices will produce fewer academic disruptions, get players into high demand classes for their majors and enhance most aspects of his operation in a more timely manner.

Hopefully, that will include wins.

“We’re looking to squeeze all the ability, growth and improvement out of our program as possible,” said Mendenhall, “and with BYU’s academic standards increase and admission to BYU becomes harder and harder, we’re running into more and more class conflicts in the afternoons. As we’re working to get as much out of our program as possible, having key players miss afternoon practices isn’t good for the player or the team.”

Also, a lot of players found they couldn’t get into classes required for their majors, in particular, physical education classes, a popular major with players who want to get into coaching.

“That was my major. We haven’t been able to have physical education majors from among our players since I’ve been the coach,” he said. Even if it addresses just 10 players, Mendenhall said it is worth it.

So, Mendenhall studied a host of “select” major college football programs. He chatted with coaches he respected. He tried to find out all he could about the impact of early morning practice sessions. He studied how it would affect the body, what it would do to practice, team meetings, diet, sleep and about everything one could imagine. He consulted a sports psychologist, nutritionist, academic folks and a bevy of others.

None of the coaches said it adversely impacted their programs. They did tell the BYU coach it made the start of the week, Monday and Tuesday, very tough for coaches.

Mendenhall believes it will be even tougher for his staff and players, especially on Tuesday, because BYU’s coaching staff does not hold meetings or practice on Sunday. In this regard, nobody has attempted what BYU is going to do.

“Mondays will be tough, but Tuesday morning practices will be the toughest because our coaches will have to have everything ready and it will take a great effort. The good news is that they will primarily be done on Thursdays at 3:30 and recover and find family time.”

Mendenhall targeted this early in spring, beginning offseason conditioning workouts at 7 a.m. for players so when the 6 a.m. call comes to prepare for the UConn game and the season opener, the adjustment would be minimal.

Another factor he believes could be a strength is the squad has a high percentage of athletes who served LDS missions and are used to an early morning lifestyle.

“It will be difficult and I expect some transition.”

New NCAA rules allow Mendenhall to push snacks and food at players at 6 a.m. when the team gathers for a meeting.

“I can look at them in the eye and wake them up if they need to be awakened. There will be a seating chart so we’ll know who is missing and address it. I have a chance to set the tone before special team and position meetings.

“I think we’ll be ready, but right now we’re going off speculation of what research has told us.”

Having no mandated Sunday prep by BYU coaches could throw a wrench into this morning format. “Who knows, I may feel different. But I think we can pull it off.”

Mendenhall is known for trying different things to get an edge. This may or may not give the Cougars that edge, only the season will tell. Mendenhall will know quickly the week after his team gets back from playing UConn in New Haven and prepares for Austin and the Texas Longhorns.

If Mendenhall gets to post-Husky Tuesday morning and finds film cutouts are lacking, scouting reports are incomplete and position groups are unprepared to focus on work at hand, he’ll absolutely know it by lunch.

Someone once said, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up, it knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle … when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

One thing’s for sure with BYU’s football players this fall, if they get into a 2 a.m. Netflix movie session, they won’t will be running anywhere at all.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

1. eagle
Provo, UT,
Aug. 9, 2014

I have a bad feeling about this idea. The reality is that college students stay up late and many games go late into the night.. This might lead to an overtired team that might not perform the best when they need to. I was thinking BYU might actually just lose 1-2 games and maybe even have a outside chance of running the table. Now, I'm not so sure.

2. idablu
Idaho Falls, ID,
Aug. 9, 2014

I don't think this is a good idea. College students just don't go to bed at a decent hour. They will be tired and drained and I think performance will drop off. I think most students' social life is between the hours of 10pm to 2am. I feel bad for the players. With the amount of calories they burn, they need their sleep. Football just got a lot less fun.

3. thebigsamoan
Richmond, VA,
Aug. 10, 2014

Hard work, commitment, dedication fueled by a strong desire to excel and succeed can be a great motivator for the team. Let's hope this new experience will translate into exactly that goal for this year. Just win, win, and win some more. I will be such a happy camper if that happen this year, much to the chagrin of all the BYU haters out there. Good day!

Go Cougars!

4. InspectorC
Wasatch Front, UT,
Aug. 10, 2014

SNIP: "Mendenhall believes it will be even tougher for his staff and players, especially on Tuesday, because BYU’s coaching staff does not hold meetings or practice on Sunday. ....

“Mondays will be tough, but Tuesday morning practices will be the toughest..."
I don't get why Tuesday morning would be any harder than any other morning of practice??? Actually, I would think Monday would be the hardest, BY FAR... especially once the season starts (finish a game late Saturday night, take The Sabbath 'off', and be ready to coach a practice at 6 AM the next morning?!?!? Good luck with that one!!)

5. Howard S.
Taylorsville, UT,
Aug. 10, 2014

Sounds like the boss assigning a two day project on Friday afternoon, and saying I want it on my desk Monday morning but don't work on Sunday.

This policy forces coaches to work on Sunday.