NCF Nation: Joe Kenn

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

L.T. Walker's alarm sounds at 5:15 a.m. The sun won't come up for another two hours. It's 15 degrees outside.

Nothing sounds better than burrowing under the covers and going back to sleep. Especially since Walker knows that an hour of intense running, suicide drills and other conditioning work with his Louisville football teammates awaits.

"You don't feel like getting up," said Walker, a senior defensive tackle. "You're just sitting there on the edge of the bed. But missing one of these would probably be the worst thing you'd want to do, so you might as well get up."

 
  University of Louisville
  Offseason workouts set the tone for spring practice.

You want to be a college football player? Well, it's not all the glamour of Saturdays, or even just the hotbox of summer practices. There's no such thing as an offseason, and winter workouts can be just as grueling as any midseason conference game.

At Louisville, players report to the Trager Center indoor practice field at 6 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday for four straight weeks during February and March. These workouts, or mat drills as they're also known, are designed to prod the team back into game shape before spring practice, which begins for the Cardinals on Sunday. Sleep is the first sacrifice.

"A lot of guys say, 'Why do we have to be up at 6 in the morning? What's the use in that?'" senior receiver Trent Guy said. "But it builds mental toughness. It will help us go into spring ready to compete."

This year, the Cardinals tried something new with their winter workouts. For the first 40 minutes, players are split into small teams and go through a circuit of drills together. Players on each mini team earn points based on how fast they complete their drills, and those are added up to form a total team score. The top individual performers and teams are announced at the end of the session.

There's no trophy involved, and points can't be redeemed for airline miles or other perks, but an athlete's interest usually increases once you start keeping score.

"We want them to know there's a winner and loser every time they walk on the field," head coach Steve Kragthorpe said, "so everybody wants to be the guy who wins that race, that drill, that practice and ultimately the game. We put a high premium on competition, not just doing mindless conditioning work."

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