BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Before they run out of the team tunnel into Tiger stadium, even before practice and the hyped Big Cat drill, the LSU football team must first rise to the challenge in the tiger weight room. There's no time to waste and there's no quitting.
It is a gameday," said coach Les Miles. "You walk into that weight room. Don't walk in there to hang around. Don't walk in there to hide. You walk in there to compete."
"We're going rep to rep," said Vadal Alexander. "We're going full speed. No breaks. We're going for a good two hours."
"You gotta be prepared man," Kenny Hilliard said. "Once you cross those tracks over there, your mind just gotta be prepared to work."
Leading the way is strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, considered one of the best in college football. Moffitt was instrumental in helping former coach Nick Saban turn a once-sleeping giant into a national contender in the early 2000s, and now enters his 15th year with the Tigers.
"I feel like I have the best job in the world because of how hard and how committed our guys are to working day-to-day," Moffitt said. "They give us themselves unconditionally, and it's an amazing thing to watch on a day-to-day basis.
Known for his motivating demeanor and intensity, it doesn't take Moffitt long to make a lasting impact on his players.
"Oh, he's never low key in the weight room," said Christian LaCouture. "He's always energized, ready to go."
"He was tough-nosed, he was hard on me, but now to flash forward - we're pushing each other," Alexander said. "He's telling me what to do, I'm yelling at him. We're pumping together. I'm getting the young guys going, and I'm on another level, man. It's been amazing how much my body has changed in four years."
"An old coach once told me you catch more bees with honey, and so we try to be positive," Moffitt said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm that goes in there. We have to push them."
And that intensity is reciprocated. Through raw emotion and passion between sets, it's more than a workout. It's a critical foundation of the program's success
"Between now and the summer when it's really hot running on the turf, a lot of people see us on Saturdays," LaCouture said. "But all the stuff that comes before that, the running, the lifting, the class work - all that stuff - it has to be at 110 percent in what you do, so we can play to our potential and get those W's for LSU."
Over the past five years, LSU football has posted 52 of those W's, including 11 fourth-quarter comebacks. The Tigers' dedicated work in the weight room has a direct correlation between emerging victorious in those big games and SEC slugfests.
"Absolutely, it's hand-in-hand," Alexander said. "Because you push yourself in here through tough times, when you get tired, that's the same thing you have to do on the field."
And it's not just current players who utilize the LSU weight room, but outgoing Tigers who prepped for the NFL draft, as well as alums, who continue to find their way back.
"It's in my blood," Brandon Taylor said. "And when you're back with the team and start watching LSU games, it's just like you're in the stadium or on the field with them. If they lose, you feel like you lost because you're just so much into it. You put so much work into it. My four years here, I can never be disconnected from it."
"We get a lot of guys back here," Moffitt said. "Stevan Ridley has done all of his rehab here, Craig Steltz has done all of his rehab here. We've had Lavar Edwards, Andrew Whitworth was here for a week last week, Kyle Williams will occasionally give us a cameo appearance. So we get a lot of those guys that come back."
What Moffitt enjoys most is the journey, the progression of his once fresh-faced freshmen into all-SEC and All-American caliber players, many of who give Moffitt a huge amount of credit for their success.
"I remember coming in here and being able to bench only 275," said La'el Collins. "I left here being able to bench 495. So being able to come in and do everything that Coach Moffitt asked me to do, it was hard, but it helped me mature as a man. It helped me make better decisions. He not only teaches you things to do on the field, but off the field as well.
"You know they come here as boys, really," Moffitt said. "They're 18, 19, 17 years old, but they all leave as men, and not just physically stronger but mentally and emotionally stronger too, and that's the most rewarding thing about what I do."
These players take that knowledge from the weight room to practice and the Big Cat drill, then on to Saturday nights in Tiger Stadium, and eventually Sunday afternoons in the NFL. Moffitt is there every step of the way.