LAFAYETTE — Considering the intense workouts and favorite-food deprivation Leonardo Bates and Jaron Odom experienced over the past eight months, lining up at No. 7 Oklahoma State to open the season Saturday doesn’t seem too difficult an obstacle.
The two starting University of Louisiana at Lafayette junior offensive tackles lost a combined 48 pounds after being among the players targeted for weight-loss and special conditioning programs instituted after first-year coach Mark Hudspeth was hired in December.
Both players say they relish the thought of opening the season against a team that has two players — quarterback Mark Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon — considered as potential Heisman Trophy candidates and included on preseason national player watch lists.
“What better way to test yourself, but against the best. I wouldn’t trade this game for nothing,” said Bates, down to 300 pounds after ending the 2010 season at 318.
Odom (6-foot-7), who moved from right guard to right tackle, dropped 30 pounds from his 360-pound playing weight last year.
Like Bates, Odom said the game gives the Cajuns a chance to see if they have improved after undergoing a rigorous training camp and offseason regimen unlike any they’ve ever experienced.
“Oklahoma State is a great team, obviously, ranked seventh in the nation or whatever,” Odom said. “We just have to go there and be smart at what we do. It’s also going to be one of the best chances we’re going to have to prove ourselves.”
Bates, from New Orleans, and Odom played guard when OSU defeated ULL 54-28 on Oct. 8 at Cajun Field. They are now part of a revamped line that has only one starter — guard Kyle Plouhar — at the same position.
Odom said the coaching staff presented him with a conditioning ultimatum at the beginning of the offseason.
“I knew I was overweight a little bit. They told me I had to do it. I knew I had to get (weight) off, and I just sacrificed it for the team,” he said.
Grilled meats and salads replaced the fried foods once prevalent in Odom’s diet, and he said he’s seen the difference.
“I’m faster on my kick slide (blocking), and I’m faster coming off the ball and running to get downfield,” Odom said.
Bates, who sacrificed his favorite desserts, said he and Odom were placed in cardiovascular and metabolic training programs under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt.
Penalties were introduced for players’ failure to comply with program guidelines, Bates said.
“You were weighed every day,” Bates said. “If you came in heavier or you didn’t lose any weight, you had a special workout waiting. That meant I changed my diet, worked out on my own.”
Odom said the workouts lasted as long as an hour and 30 minutes. Among the items were as many as 15 workout stations. Sometimes players were required to repeat the cycle of stations before ending one day of conditioning.
Bates said the overall conditioning program for the entire team should help the Cajuns at Oklahoma State.
“They were very athletic when we played them last year,” Bates said. “We prepared well for them, but we got tired (ULL was outscored 37-7 in the second half). This year we are going to be a better fourth quarter team.”
The team was off following a Friday morning workout. ULL is scheduled to report back to practice Sunday night to begin more intensive preparations, said Hudspeth. The players then have Monday off before returning to practice Tuesday.