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Are Cougars set to 'Cowboy Up'?

Walk into BYU football offices, through the secretary-screening area to the back-reception area, and you'll find nice couches and a great view of Mount Timpanogos and the practice field. Against the east wall, there is a giant TV screen entombed in a beautiful, rich wooden cabinet.

The giant TV is another of Bronco Mendenhall's use of symbols to re-wire BYU's football program and return to wins instead of losses.

Say, what?

You see, this giant TV used to be in the Cougar team locker room in LaVell Edwards Stadium. It was hooked up as part of a "created decor" player's lounge, where the squad could look at other games in progress, peek in at ESPN's GameDay, and tune in to what's going on around the country while preparing for games. This TV set was placed in the locker room by a previous administration and staff.

This summer, Mendenhall had the TV set dragged out of the locker room, hauled across campus, hoisted up the elevator at the Student Athlete Center and placed in the football office reception area. The message was clear. Only one game matters in the locker room on game day.

"It's just one more thing he's changed around here," tackle Jake Kuresa said. "Since Bronco's come, he's changed just about everything else. We're doing everything completely different.

"There were some people skeptical at first, that we didn't need to do that. But like many of the other changes he's brought, they've turned out to be good, so we're saying to ourselves if he thinks we'll be more focused without the TV, then dang it, we're going to be more focused."

Changes.

After going 4-8 at home, enduring three losing seasons, Mendenhall's tossed out a lot of bath water in the Cougartown tubs. He's also dug up icons like the "Y" symbol, uniform style and white helmet.

He's challenged people up a mountain, had the team lie down in the stadium to revisit great wins with eyes closed and audio play-by-play blaring over speakers. He's had bonfires where old symbols were torched. He's asked more and demanded heavier commitments.

The talk sounds good. In some ways, it's been Winston Churchill-like for downtrodden Cougars.

The philosophy and psychology behind the mantra chimes a neat melody.

Mendenhall acts like a confident winner and coaches as if he's got a plan. Now, the big question is, will all this convert to victories?

Dunno.

But everyone will be closer to discovering an answer to that today when the Cougars host No. 22 Boston College.

Earlier this month, Mendenhall approached a longtime faculty member now retired in former trainer George Curtis and asked his opinion of what he could do. Mendenhall isn't shy on asking for advice. Curtis pulled out a copper .45 caliber bullet, handed it to the coach and told him to keep it, to bite it if things went awry; take responsibility for the good and bad.

On Friday, Curtis had a box of T-shirts he had silk-screened at the Ink Spot in Provo delivered to the BYU coach. On the T-shirt front is a design of a bullet and words like "Cowboy Up," and "No Excuses."

Kinda like preaching to the choir.

It is all a language Mendenhall embraces like Audie Murphy.

Icons and words don't make blocks and tackles. Today, Mendenhall's winter, spring and summer of preaching are over.

"I feel like we're ready to go, ready to play, and I expect we're going to do big things on the field," Kuresa said. "I want to tell people we're so ready, we're so good. But the thing is, we don't have any credibility. We've had three losing seasons in a row, so to talk about it, the point doesn't get across. People want to see it, not hear about it."

Kuresa said he's anxious. Mendenhall has made him feel different. Why?

"Because I've put more into it. I've put my body on the line. Coach Mendenhall said something just after he was hired, that the more you invest, the harder it is to give up. Because I've invested so much, I don't want to give up.

"I didn't understand what it meant. But now, because I've invested so much, I don't want to let go of it, not give it up. He was accurate.

"The whole team feels this way, that there's been so much work done that to not win will hurt so much more than in past years."

Today, Mendenhall's era officially begins on the field.

Today, TV sets, T-shirts, talks and symbols take a back seat to action. The time for talk has ended.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com