LARAMIE, Wyoming — Uso Olive was sweaty and out of breath, but he had a big smile on his face.
"Just another day where I about died," the University of Wyoming sophomore defensive tackle said with a laugh.
Olive was talking about the workouts that new football strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval has the Cowboys going through this winter. Duval was hired by new coach Craig Bohl to get players in both physical and mental shape to do what Bohl wants to see on the field.
Bohl wants to run more of a pro-style offense that is based on a physical run game, a stark contrast from the spread offense run by former coach Dave Christensen the past five years. Bohl also wants to run a 4-3 defense where all 11 guys must play well, but especially at defensive tackle and cornerback.
No matter what UW ran defensively the last few years, it was one of the worst in the nation in terms of scoring, rushing yards and total yards allowed.
Schemes and game plans don't mean much if the players can't execute them. That's where Duval comes in, and, initially at least, it hasn't been easy.
"Watching the film, a lot of our guys didn't pass the eye test," Duval said. "We had a lot of fat and not enough muscle. We've had to transform their bodies."
But before the first weight was lifted or the first sprint was run a few weeks ago, Duval needed to get some things established.
First, he met with each player to establish a relationship and trust. He found out everything, including such things as their family history, past training trends, academic history and what they like to do in their off-time.
"These guys needed to know that we care," Duval told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (http://bit.ly/1geLLh6).
That went over well with the players.
"A football team is about trust, and if you don't trust your coach, why would you want to play for him in the first place," senior linebacker Mark Nzeocha said. "(Duval) established his trust right way. I talked with him for about an hour the first time. We talked about goals, where he sees the program heading. I felt that helped a lot."
Duval then began putting together what he calls the "Wyoming profile."
He, his staff and even some outside help took measurements of all the players and ran them through the same tests players go through at the NFL Scouting Combine. They also have a closer coordination with UW's training staff and have taken a more hand-on approach to the nutrition aspect of the players.
All players have a diet plan of what they can and cannot eat, and when they need to eat.
"We're not getting our stipend checks and blowing it on McDonald's, Qdoba or some fast-food place," junior offensive lineman Rafe Kiely said. "We're eating in the dorms now, and that means we're getting the best and freshest food every day."
Then it was time for Duval and the players to get to work.
Duval, who came to UW from the University of Buffalo and also worked with Bohl when both were at the University of Nebraska in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, wanted to implement the same program he used at Buffalo the last three years.
But seeing where the players were at physically when he got to UW, Duval scrapped that and went to Plan B. Duval is trying to increase lean muscle mass in every player and increase growth hormone and testosterone naturally in the body.
That entails intense circuit training workouts with little rest in between. The team also began running this week.
"The major difference is the intensity of the workouts," senior cornerback Blair Burns said. "We're banging them all out. We're getting less rest. It's more challenging on our bodies.
"With (former strength coach Trent) Greener's staff, you felt the workout after, but every time you finish at every station here, it's exhausting. I've thrown up multiple times, and I've never thrown up in my life. I know this program is working for us."
Results are already starting to show.
Duval said at least 16 players have added 12 pounds of lean muscle mass, and many have dropped 2 to 3 percent of their body fat.
Nzeocha, an outside linebacker who was listed at 235 pounds last season, said he has added 10 pounds of muscle.
"We'll get a lot faster transformations than a lot of other people," Duval said. "The biggest muscle we're trying to train is between the ears.
"When you take a team that needs a drastic overhaul with bad attitudes, that's a recipe for disaster. That's not this team. They were really looking forward to some change. They want to win. It's our job to teach them how to win and to equip them with the tools to win."
Make no mistake — this is not easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it. But it appears that the first stages of Duval's program is working.
"The thing I love about it is it's do-or-die," Kiely said. "You have no choice than to get in and either do it or you fail in front of everybody, and nobody wants to fail right now.
"With coach Duval, you can already tell how dedicated he is to us four weeks in. Last year, we would come in and people would be dragging and flat and knew it wasn't going to be a good time. Now we come in, we all are lifting heavier weights and doing them twice as fast. It's so much more intense, but I think the biggest thing is everybody comes in here happy and ready to work. We're smiling, sweating, and for a lot of guys, puking."
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com