"These guys want to be pushed. Our job as coaches is to make them do what they don't want to do, to make sure they get to where they want to be."
Just when UL's football players think they've figured coach Mark Hudspeth out, the new Ragin' Cajun boss throws them for another loop.
All 105 players thought they were running into the Moncla Indoor Facility Wednesday afternoon for a walk-through practice in shorts and T-shirts. Instead, they kept on running - through that building, around the softball field and to the back of Bourgeois Hall where a pool party awaited.
"They just went through seven straight days, hard days," Hudspeth says. "You have to take care of your guys. When they give you everything they have, you've got to reward them."
The reward Wednesday afternoon was a cool pool, an all-you-can-handle sno-cone stand, beach balls and music. Jimmy Buffett would have been proud except that the music - the "juice" in Hudspeth-speak - bore little resemblance to "Margaritaville."
The musical genre aside, Wednesday was the first day for the squad to let its collective hair down. Over the first week of practice, the players have become so used to the coach's fast pace that the word "intensity" pops up in every interview they give. They probably enjoyed Wednesday's break intensely. After all, their work days have been long ones since last week's start of fall drills.
"The horn blows at 6 a.m., and they get sent to the rack at about 9 p.m.," Hudspeth says. "But these guys want to be pushed. Our job as coaches is to make them do what they don't want to do, to make sure they get to where they want to be."
Where they want to be is on the positive side of the won-lost ledger, something that's happened only once since 1995. But the final record was not one of the specific goals laid out by Hudspeth in Wednesday's Media Day activities. They were, in order of how he expects his team to reach them:
1) Play harder and with more passion than everyone they play
2) Win all of their games at home (five this year, against Nicholls State and Sun Belt Conference foes Florida Atlantic, Troy, North Texas and UL Monroe
3) Go to a bowl game (a minimum of 6-6 required, and likely 7-5 needed)
4) Win a bowl game
5) Win the Sun Belt Conference
6) Be a Top 25 team.
"You've got to start somewhere," he says.
Hudspeth's start was winning the public relations battle, one he and his staff did win over the last eight months. The next step was to get the players to believe those goals are possible, which has already happened if those player interviews are any indication.
The physical part is still a work in progress, with three weeks remaining before the Sept. 3 opener at top-10-ranked Oklahoma State. There is no first-hand evidence of the intensity level of fall drills - the workouts are closed to the public and media with limited exceptions - but seeing the players drag themselves off the practice field at the end of the daily two-a-day workouts gives a pretty good indication.
After Wednesday's surprise day-off, it's back to business as usual Thursday, with the music blaring from the speakers of the "juice machine" from early morning until late evening. "You're always looking for ways to energize your guys," Hudsepth says "Besides, I like it the music gets me juiced up, too."
Like he needs more juicing up.