WATERVILLE — Every morning his alarm goes off before the sun comes up, but Patrick Sopko is OK with the early morning wake-up calls. When he sees himself and his Colby College football teammates getting better in practices that start at 6 a.m., Sopko knows it’s worth it.

“That type of discipline, showing you can get up every day, if you need treatment at 4:30 in the morning. You’ve got to get to bed by 8:30 or 9 every day if you can,” said Sopko, a defensive end. “In our program, you have to be disciplined. You have to take care of yourself. There’s no time to mess around.”

Now in their second season playing for former University of Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove, the Mules have embraced their coach’s competitive philosophy. The Mules open the season Sept. 14 at Wesleyan. Colby’s first home game is Sept. 21 against Amherst.

After Tuesday morning’s practice, Cosgrove said he’s seen progress, comparing the first two practices of this season to the first two of 2018.

“Now I say something and they know what we’re doing. It was all new to them last year. As much as you can try and get them prepared and organized in a meeting with overheads and slides, it really comes down to what you’re doing on the field and your time management on the field,” Cosgrove said. “When you prolong practices they don’t have that kind of continuum to them and you lose the players. We need to be quick and efficient and I feel we’re getting better at that.”

Added offensive lineman Travon Bradford: “He’s a tough coach. He definitely brings the heat and expects a lot of us. It makes us expect a lot out of ourselves, too. It’s raised the bar for the intensity this team has in practices and in games.”

The Mules finished 3-6 last season, and won the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin title for the first time since 2005. Those wins over Colby’s biggest rivals helped set the tone for the offseason and signaled to the Mules that Cosgrove’s approach works.

“It’s an indicator of change, the fact we won that for the first time in a while. It’s not just we were better than (Bowdoin and Bates) last year,” Sopko said. “I think it’s an indicator that we have made a serious identity change in this program. I expect things to continue in that direction.”

A focus in the offseason was making sure the Mules are able to finish each game with the same intensity with which they start.

“We would have won two or three extra games last year had we finished in the fourth quarter,” Bradford said.

To get the Mules in shape to play four quarters, Cosgrove demands they practice with urgency.

“The speed of the games is miles above what it was my freshman year,” Bradford said.

Just two practices in, Cosgrove said he can see an improvement in his team. Last year, Colby started the preseason with 65 players on the roster. Now, the Mules have 78, and that should lead to tough battles for playing time, Cosgrove said.

“We have to play better football than we did last year. It’s that simple. It’s not very complicated. Based off of two days here, we’re way ahead of where we were last year,” Cosgrove said. “They bought into the offseason. We run a bunch of competition drills and guys are into it. We’re trying to teach that. Everybody knows competition is something that can set you apart from others.”

The Mules are hoping 2019 is the season in which they finish over .500 for the first time since a 7-1 effort in 2005. Cosgrove set the standard, Sopko said.

“Coach Cos holds us to a standard of excellence that I am not used to, and I don’t think many guys on this team are used to,” Sopko said. “Even the underclassmen, we made it clear to them, that we expect nothing but the best from them. We don’t expect perfection. That’s unrealistic. But we expect 100 percent effort every time.”

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