Welcome to zumba football, where the music is loud and constant, the pace is set to a rat-a-tat tempo, and the players are worked into an exhausted state.
Norm Chow’s first spring practice as Hawaii’s head coach was a mixed tape of high energy, rote teaching and, yes, more than the occasional thwacks from heat-seeking defenders.
The quarterbacks traded their orange practice jerseys of the past for red ones, an exchange in which they relinquished some of their protection rights.
During warmups, the quarterbacks joined the other players, including offensive linemen, in running the gauntlet. The object was to grip the football while running between a tunnel of pad-swinging teammates trying to force a fumble.
"If you’ve got a ball in your hand, it better be (held) high and tight," tight end coach Phil Rauscher yelled at each ball carrier.
He also yelled what would become the practice’s mantra: "Ball security is job security."
Quarterback Cayman Shutter noted: "The quarterbacks are more involved in the running game. We’re being asked to get down and dirty a little bit more."
David Graves said: "We’re putting an emphasis on valuing the football. We have to hold it high and tight, like the receivers do."
There had been clues the pace would be fast and furious. During the offseason conditioning program, there were trash cans placed alongside the field for players needing to regurgitate their breakfast.
"There were garbage cans lined up, so we knew what was coming," Graves said. "I’m all for it. We’re going to be in good shape when we come to play (Southern California) in the first game."
From the first stretching exercise to the final aggressive-contact 11-on-11 drills, there were few pauses. Somehow, the Warriors managed to squeeze the entire program — lineman-on-lineman drills, scrimmage-like situations, special teams — into the 2-hour session.
"This is how it’s supposed to be," Chow said.
Defensive end Paipai Falemalu said: "The biggest thing was the tempo that we had. I’m not going to lie. I was gasping out there."
Chow said that limited contact did not mean no contact.
"We were hitting each other like we had pads on," Falemalu said. "We knew how to practice. We got into position to make a play, then we would wrap up. We didn’t take anyone to the ground."
Chow, who was hired in December, implemented a pro-style offense that employs a tight end and fullback — positions absent from the UH playbook during the 13 years the four-wide passing attack was in place. In some situations, there was an eight-man protection with only two receivers in play.
"There were some mental errors," Rauscher said of the tight ends, "but only because this was the first day and none of them played the position before except for Clark (Evans, a junior college transfer). They played with energy. They didn’t get too tired."
Waylon Lolotai, who moved from offensive line to tight end, said: "If we didn’t have that (offseason) training, I think I would have passed out. It was good. It was more than I was used to, but it was a good change of pace."
Even the coaches were at full speed. On some drills, Rauscher served as a linebacker defending the tight end.
"We have to coach with a certain kind of energy," Rauscher said. "They feed off of us. We can’t let up for a second. The players need to see us work. If they see us work, they’ll know we’re willing to do anything for them. We’ll do anything to get them better. The first game is getting closer every day. We have to be ready to go."
Throughout practice, the speakers blasted music.
"It’s fun to have," said Chow, who arranged for the sound system to be set up on the grass practice field. "They work hard. They deserve some fun. … That’s why they play the first song, because they know I like that one. After that, the kids pick the rest of them."
The first song? "I think it’s ‘I’m So Hood,’ " Falemalu said.
"It was a good intense practice," Graves said. "I think that’s the norm, no pun intended."