Defensive players ran laps around the Colorado practice fields during one two-a-day earlier this week after repeatedly being schooled by the offense. Defensive ends coach Andy LaRussa ran right alongside the young men he coaches.
Not many assistant coaches around the nation would be caught dead serving physical punishment with their players in the hot August sun, but it probably shouldn't be a surprise that LaRussa is willing to do so.
This is a man always pushing himself.
LaRussa began to immerse himself in Boulder's distance running culture not long after he was hired away from San Jose State in January 2013. He and several other members of coach Mike MacIntyre's staff began participating in a running group each Wednesday evening at Boulder Running Co.
He had conquered several half-marathons previously before deciding to run his first full marathon earlier this spring at Huntington Beach in Southern California on a Saturday in May when in-person contact with recruits is not allowed. He finished in 4 hours, 10 minutes with only one 20-mile training run leading up to it a few days beforehand. He called it "very disappointing" because his goal was to finish in less than 4 hours.
"I try and find some challenges," LaRussa said. "I like to take on some things out there and push myself to get it done and get it accomplished. Sometimes it starts out a little bit rough but works itself out."
LaRussa and the players under his guidance figure to be tested often when the season starts for the Buffaloes later this month in Denver against Colorado State and as the season unfolds from there. The defensive end with the most experience on the CU roster is Juda Parker, who has moved to defensive tackle. The next most experienced player at the position on this team is sophomore Jimmie Gilbert, who played in all 12 games as a true freshman last season for a total of 261 snaps.
It's obvious this position will be targeted by opposing offensive coordinators until the Buffs handle themselves well enough to get opponents to think twice.
"We talk about that all the time," LaRussa said. "They're going to attack us, but they don't know what we got. I don't think they know our athleticism that we have out there and I don't think they know the strengths that our guys have yet. I think that is good. Our guys are working hard and I think they're going to be ready for it. There is going to be some growing pains. It's unavoidable, but these guys are really studying hard and doing everything they can to prepare themselves for those situations."
LaRussa played defensive line in college at Southern Utah and spent some time helping to coach that position group as a graduate assistant at UNLV where he also coached linebackers and the secondary at times.
This season will be the first time in his career as a full-time assistant coach that he has coached defensive linemen exclusively. He coached cornerbacks at CU last year as well as during his time at SJSU and Northern Arizona.
"He's done a great job at it," MacIntyre said. "He understands it. The good thing is he understands the back end and how it fits in the front end now. So I really think that helps. He's doing a great job with our defensive ends and the different things we're doing with them. ... To me it was a natural fit. He wasn't like a fish out of water by any stretch."
One could wonder if LaRussa is a glutton for punishment as opposed to someone thirsty for a challenge. He coached one of the youngest position groups on the team last year in handling CU's cornerbacks and now he's right back in the same boat with defensive ends. Junior Tyler Henington, who has been out almost the entirety of camp with a badly sprained ankle, will be the veteran of the group as a junior and he has spent his entire career previously as a defensive tackle.
LaRussa said he believes having gone through a season with so many young cornerbacks last season is already paying dividends in how he is coaching this group of defensive ends.
"Yeah, I think it does, just understanding that it's a fine line between confidence and coaching," he said. "You've got to keep them positive and keep them going in the right direction but you've got to critique them and stay on them and coach them in the right way.
"They're very similar personalities. Those guys are all very athletic and you have to live with some of the mistakes because you can get some very big plays out of it. You just have to coach them and teach them the right time to go after those opportunities."
So what is it liked to be coached by a guy who runs marathons with little planning to avoid a day at the beach with nothing to do?
"I love him as a coach," redshirt freshman Derek McCartney said. "He's a great coach. He gets on us but he teaches us. He makes us better. I feel like every time I walk out here I learn something new, something simple about the game that makes me a better player."