The intensity was through the roof at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex at 6 a.m. Friday morning. There were spectators. Cameras were rolling. The Rose Bowl and the Capital One Bowl were taking place on the indoor practice field at the University of Minnesota.
Wait a minute. Those bowl games were played back in January. And they certainly aren't played at the Gopher football complex. True enough. But for the Gophers, the competitions that took place on the turf at the indoor complex Friday morning were about as important as it gets in mid-March.
""This morning was probably the most awesome atmosphere for a 6 a.m. workout you could have," Klein said. "There were probably 30 or so alums, lettermen who were out there watching. There were all kinds of people out there. We had cameras rolling."
Friday morning was the culmination of the Gophers' winter workouts. The Minnesota squad was broken down into eight different teams at the beginning of winter conditioning. Each week, these teams competed against one another in the weight room and on the field in events designed by head strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein. Points were tallied, as were wins and losses.
The top four teams advanced to Friday morning's "bowl games." Each Friday's "game" consisted of an obstacle course, a tire-flip-and-carry competition, a speed obstacle course and individual, one-on-one tug-of-war battles.
"Each week, the captains got to pick their matchups," Klein said. "They had their game, so they had to pick their lineup and talk with the other team captain and figure out who was going to match up against whom."
The idea of competition during the off-season isn't new to Klein or head coach Jerry Kill. But it was tweaked a little bit this year.
"At Southern (Illinois) and at Northern (Illinois), we used a team competition," Klein said. "It had the weight room, it had academics, it was kind of an overall competition. I talked to Coach (Kill) and I said I just want one simple thing here. Let's just make it a weight room and conditioning type of competition.
"I'd heard of other places using trophies and awards," Klein continued. "So I said, 'What's the two biggest bowls the Big Ten can get into?' You've got the Rose Bowl and the Capital One Bowl. So ... we got similar trophies to what you'd get if you win that game. We told the guys that's what you're playing for. That's what we play for in the season, that's what we're going to play for right now."
Going into Friday, Team Accountability and Team Pride qualified for the Rose Bowl. Accountability was captained by offensive lineman Ed Olson, while Pride was led by quarterback MarQueis Gray. Accountability came out on top in a hotly-contested battle.
"We've been competing all winter for this," Olson said. "We put everything we had into it and it was a great competition today."
> There was a bit of a sub-plot in Accountability's win over Pride, as well. Team Accountability was captained by the starting left tackle and included two other offensive linemen - the men who are charged with protecting the quarterback. Meanwhile, Gray - the starting signal-caller - did not select an offensive lineman for his squad.
"(Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt) Limegrover kept telling us all winter that he wanted us to beat MarQueis' team because he didn't have any o-linemen," Olson said. "We just tried to prove it to him today and we did a good job and came out with the 'W.'"
Gray told me late this morning that he had targeted Ed's brother Tommy to be on Team Pride, but Ed picked him before Gray had a chance. He also told me he felt not having any linemen on his team might have been the difference in the competition.
> Overall, Klein said he was happy with the way winter conditioning played out. He believes the team is in much better physical condition. Klein also said the conditioning sessions had a positive effect mentally, as well. Hear his comments about that below.
> Klein also had positive reports on a number of other guys and their hard work in the winter conditioning period. To hear what he had to say about the offensive line, some of the junior college transfers, as well as comments about Troy Stoudermire, listen below.