BOULDER — Only a few hundred yards separate Sewell Hall from Folsom Field.
But in the rainy pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, the two seemed a million miles apart.
There was no crowd noise at the stadium — only the sound of a pair of noisy raccoons foraging for food outside the gates — as the University of Colorado’s freshman football players dragged themselves out of bed and headed for a mandatory meal they call Breakfast Club.
Sewell Hall at 6:45 a.m. offers no glory and little rest for the football players — even during a week when they have no game scheduled.
If Breakfast Club sounds a lot like the Saturday-morning detention sessions featured in the movie of the same name, that’s because it is.
The lady who cooks at Sewell and who is known only as “A.J.” greets the players and other students with a friendly, “Hey, baby. How you doin’?”
A.J., however, is perhaps the only cheery presence in Sewell’s dining hall at a time of day when the still-darkened Boulder Turnpike is crowded with cars heading into Denver and most of the rest of Boulder is still asleep.
Since he became CU’s football coach six seasons ago, Gary Barnett has required all freshmen to attend breakfast at 7 a.m. on most weekdays. Those who don’t have 8 a.m. classes are then required to attend the 8 a.m. “study table” in the nearby Dal Ward Center.
Graduate assistants or coaching interns monitor the Breakfast Club and provide Barnett with a list of those who don’t show up. Slackers are punished with early-morning runs or a trip to what is called “Commitment Time,” a punishment that makes detention look like Club Med.
Commitment Time requires players to be at the Dal Ward Center from 10 p.m. Saturday until 2 a.m. Sunday — the only night of the week during which players can usually stay up late or sleep in.
Two weeks ago, the Commitment Time players pushed blocking sleds around Folsom Field in the middle of the night. So much for the glory of college football.
The prospect of those middle-of-the-night workouts makes the Breakfast Club much more palatable for the freshmen.
“Sometimes it’s an inconvenience,” linebacker Maurice Cantrell said as he gulped breakfast with a math book beside his plate, “but it instills good characteristics. It makes you responsible.”
Center Daniel Sanders said he is “pretty used to” getting up early, but admitted it’s sometimes difficult. “Sometimes you just want to sleep in, but once you get up, it gets you going,” he said.
Linebacker Jordan Dizon, who grew up in Hawaii, wasn’t thrilled about the cold weather — the 7 a.m. temperature of 48 degrees would be the high for the day — but it didn’t seem to soften his appetite for A.J.’s food. He made a sandwich from a bagel, a pile of scrambled eggs, cheese and two sausage links. Another plate was piled with ham, hash browns and more sausage. Two glasses of apple juice were gone quickly, and he grabbed a doughnut on his way out of the dining hall.
For Justin Adams and Corey Reid, the 7 a.m. breakfast wasn’t even early. The two had already finished their daily weightlifting requirements by the time they rolled into Sewell.
“We have to lift three days a week at either 6:30, 10:30 or 12:30,” Adams said. “I like lifting early. It gets everything out of the way.”
Reid, who was headed to the study table after a breakfast that dwarfed the one downed by Dizon, had to defend himself when a teammate told him he eats more than anyone he had ever seen.
“I'm going to need it the rest of the day,” the 185-pound Reid said.
Drew Ford, a linebacker from the southern Colorado town of Alamosa, laughed at the weather.
“I wish it would get this warm in Alamosa,” he said, adding that he thinks Breakfast Club is a good idea for freshmen.
“Especially during your first semester,” he said. “A lot of times you want to go back to bed. If I do, I’m going to miss class. I know it helps me.”
Coaching intern Darian Hagan, a second-team All-American quarterback when the Buffs won three straight Big Eight titles from 1989 to 1991, checked off names as the players entered Breakfast Club. At one point, he whipped out his cell phone and called a player.
“Get over here,” he commanded.
After a short silence, Hagan spoke into the phone again.
“I don’t care if you don’t have your shoes with you,” he said. “Walk fast — it’s wet out there.”
Barnett and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz were watching film of upcoming opponent Missouri when Hagan handed him a list of five freshmen who failed to show for breakfast.
“Get them out there running tomorrow morning,” Barnett said. “It looks like we just got some more guys for Commitment Time.”
Hagan has firsthand knowledge of Barnett’s insistence on class attendance.
“When I was playing, I missed a class when I hurt my knee,” he said. “Coach (Bill) McCartney never got on you — he had your position coach get on you. Coach Barnett was the quarterback coach, and he had me in the (Balch) Fieldhouse at 5 a.m. I couldn’t run, but he made me walk around the fieldhouse on crutches.”
Barnett also remembered that incident.
“It was Darian and (fullback) George Hemingway,” he said. “I was mad at them because I had to be out there at 5 o’clock, too.”
Barnett said the Breakfast Club has been in place since he came to CU, but that Commitment Time is new this year. Barnett checks class attendance for all freshmen and any other players with a grade-point average lower than 2.1. Those who miss classes are sent to Commitment Time.
“Coach Barnett doesn’t mess around,” Hagan said. “If you miss breakfast, it’s Commitment Time. If you show up for study table at 8:01, it’s Commitment Time.”
Although they don’t have to attend Breakfast Club, the upperclassmen didn’t exactly enjoy a vacation during the team’s bye week, other than not practicing Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s life as normal,” quarterback Joel Klatt said. “There are still a lot of things the guys are required to do.”
For Klatt, each day begins between 7 and 8 a.m. and ends around midnight.
“My roommate (quarterback Eric Greenberg) gets up about 5:30 because he does his lifting in the 6:30 group,” he said.
After a morning of classes, Klatt usually goes to the Dal Ward Center to lift weights, stretch or get a deep-tissue massage before grabbing a quick lunch. Then it’s back to class until 2 p.m.
“Then I come in to get taped, go to meetings and practice,” he said. After dinner, he watches game tapes, “sometimes until 10 or midnight.”
This week, Klatt had the luxury of two nights off, but there was no recreation on his schedule. On Monday night, he spoke to a group of about 300 people at the Flatirons Community Church. On Tuesday evening, he delivered a testimonial at a campus ministry.
On Saturday, Klatt and running back Bobby Purify served as grand marshals of the Oktoberfest Parade in Longmont — a task very different from their jobs on most Saturdays.
Klatt said Barnett’s academic policies serve a good purpose and are not as Draconian as they may seem.
“If you take care of your business, you have more leeway,” he said. “If you get good grades, he doesn’t check your class attendance. It’s very much a growing process. He’s trying to teach us how to grow into a man.”
Assistant head coach Brian Cabral, who played at CU in the late 1970s, said college football is “much more demanding” than when he played.
“These guys really have no free time,” he said. “With mandatory lifting, study halls, they are busy most of the time they aren’t in class.”
If Monday and Tuesday were considered a mini-vacation, the holiday came to an abrupt halt Wednesday as the team gathered to watch tape of its win over North Texas.
In no uncertain terms, Barnett told his players that “everything goes up to another level” when Big 12 play begins.
“This is big-boy football,” he said.
Bruce Plasket can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.