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Gassed or gassed up? Beginning of fall camp will reveal Arizona’s fitness

Taimi Tutogi is one of the players who says he’s in the best shape of his life. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Wildcats say they endured the pain; coach Rich Rodriguez is ready to measure the gain.

This, above all, is the story of Arizona’s camp: The players’ conditioning. Rodriguez wants to play fast on offense, to be fast on defense. Tempo. It’s all about tempo. No huddle. Run to the line of scrimmage. Fly around on defense.

Rodriguez said in spring practice, when he bemoaned the overall conditioning of his inherited team, that the players needed to be in the best shape of their lives by fall camp.

Well, it’s here.

As the Wildcats reported to camp Wednesday — with the first practice scheduled for Thursday night — four players were made available to the media for interviews.

“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been,” said running back Taimi Tutogi, echoing the other three.

OK, so what else are they are going to say? But there is reason to believe the players because offseason workouts were different. They had to be. Rodriguez is running different schemes than former coach Mike Stoops did, so training is going to be different, too.

Run, run, run.

“There have been a few people who are running as hard as they can, and they are throwing up as they run,” linebacker Jake Fischer told me last week at Pac-12 Media Day. “It was getting pretty bad.

“You can tell everyone is in better shape. Everyone has been working really hard, and that’s all you can ask right now.”

Rodriguez will be the judge of that.

“The first practice will tell me a lot,” he said.

“Guys that struggle through mightily, it probably tells us they didn’t do a whole lot this summer. We will have a conditioning test at the end of the first practice. Those guys who worked out and are in shape, they shouldn’t have any problem passing it.

“Those who didn’t will have a big problem.”

The running, the players said, was the most challenging aspect of the offseason workouts, with grueling sessions on Monday and Friday.

Said center Kyle Quinn: “Just the volume of running you have to do to be successful in this offense, nobody can prepare you for it until you actually do it.”

Said cornerback Shaquille Richardson: We have progressed so much. Just getting comfortable being tired, and pushing through our tiredness so that it pushes our maximum limit even higher.”

Said safety Mark Watley: “I should be in the Olympics right now with how much we’re running.”

Rodriguez hasn’t complained about the “buy-in” factor with the Wildcats, their willingness to accept new ways of doing things. Players are aware this isn’t his first rodeo. The stuff he is doing now is the same stuff that got West Virginia within one game of playing for the national championship.

“The coaches are bringing that championship attitude,” Fischer said.

“They have won their conference. They have won BCS games. They have shown us how to work like champions. I believe that is going to lead to positive results on the field.”

Rodriguez still likes to tell the story of his first practice of spring, when he offered popsicles in a shaded area of the practice field as a reward halfway through the two-hour drills. Guys were too gassed to make it off the field for the frozen treats.

“(Thursday) shouldn’t be as bad as that,” Quinn said with a laugh. “We know what to expect. We should be able to make it to the coolers and get the popsicles.”

That would be a start. Fact is, Arizona will be modestly talented and thin in most areas this season. If the Cats can’t use superior conditioning to master the tempo of the game, it’s going to be a really long season.

The answer will begin to be revealed Thursday.

“The minimum has been raised, basically,” Richardson said of the new culture of Arizona football.

“It’s not OK to miss times. It’s not OK to quit. It’s not OK to give up. It’s not OK to give in. It’s not OK to not give your all.”

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