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Originally published March 5, 2011 at 8:03 PM | Page modified March 5, 2011 at 8:47 PM

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Huskies hope offseason workouts pay off in the fall

In four-days-a-week, early-morning workouts throughout much of the winter, the seeds are sown for a season still months away.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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This is the unseen part of college football — and not just because most of it happens under the cover of darkness.

Here, in four-days-a-week, early-morning workouts throughout much of the winter, the seeds are sown for a season still months away.

"This is harder than the regular season," Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said following a recent workout that included roughly an hour of running in the Dempsey Indoor facility, beginning at 6 a.m., then an hour of weightlifting.

The NCAA allows teams to conduct eight hours a week of regulated, mandated workouts throughout the offseason (other than requiring that there be eight weeks from the end of the season to the beginning of the next in which nothing can be mandatory.)

The Huskies took the first three weeks of January off after returning for a new quarter following the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska. Then they embarked on their offseason conditioning program, which will end in mid-March shortly before finals week and the beginning of spring practice on March 29.

Coaches say the workouts are not only about physical conditioning, but also about forming bonds for the following year's team.

In UW's case, these sessions are the first official activities the Huskies are conducting without graduated players and established team leaders Jake Locker, Mason Foster and Nate Williams.

"This is a lot of the time when a team's leadership starts to step up, and I think this is when teams' personalities start to take shape and when the camaraderie starts to take shape," said coach Steve Sarkisian. "These workouts are when guys are together building and growing — they are vitally important to who we are."

Some observers nationally have been critical that mandatory, regulated offseason workout programs exist, further filling up an athlete's schedule. And in January, Iowa's workout program fell under a harsh light when 12 players were hospitalized for muscle disorder following an intense session.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said there is "always discussion" at the NCAA level about what amount of time athletes should have required activities. But he said the reality is that "student-athletes are always going to want to get better at what they do, whether it's voluntary or coach-oversight time."

Woodward added: "I feel very good about our strength and conditioning program."

While coaches can attend the workouts and oversee their position groups, the sessions are organized by the strength staff, led by head strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis.

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Players work out Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Many work out in the morning, beginning at 6 a.m., including linemen, linebackers and tight ends. Other position groups work out at 8 a.m. or 2 p.m., allowing for more individualized attention, as well as flexibility for class schedules.

Requiring players to arrive for workouts by 6 a.m. — Dennison says most show up by 5:30 a.m. — has some other advantages, however.

"We dictate their social life at night," Lewis said with a smile. "They've got to get sleep because no way you can get through one of these workouts without sleep. It only takes one time before they realize that.

"But it's cool, because it is bonding. Guys are calling each other, making sure their roommates are in, really protecting the team at the highest level. They want to make sure one of their teammates doesn't get in trouble, really make sure everybody gets here on time and all that kind of stuff. It really brings them closer as a group."

Dennison cited a recent 6 a.m. outdoor run at Husky Stadium in freezing temperatures as the kind of event that creates togetherness.

"I don't think a lot of people want to do that, but we did it and it built mental toughness," he said. "And I think if you can do that, you can do anything. ... I'm sure a lot of the guys when they sign they expect all the fame and glory, because you get so much attention playing college football. But this is where you win Holiday Bowls, or win that fourth down against an Oregon State team, or win a fourth quarter."

The UW strength coaches create conditioning programs specialized for position groups (during the runs, for instance, receivers often run routes).

Each day also has a slightly different emphasis in terms of muscle groups worked and the amount of lifts and runs.

A general emphasis this offseason, however, has been on increasing power and strength up front.

Sarkisian's staff is entering its third year, and he says every offseason has had a slightly different emphasis.

"Two years ago when we took over, it was about losing weight and getting faster," Sarkisian said. "Last year, we wanted to be more explosive. And this year, the one thing we are getting out of it is, we need to be more powerful. We need to be a stronger team at the point of attack but not losing the athleticism that we have.

"You can only attack so many facets of your program at a time and we are at that stage now, because of how we shifted the guys we inherited and also the type of player that we recruited that we are able to emphasize on the power aspect now."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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