If Garrett Johnson and Blake McClain are stars when the lights come on at Commonwealth Stadium this season, it will be from all of the extra work they did there in the dark.
"One time, I was laying in bed at like 11:30 and he was like, 'Hey, Blake, let's go to the stadium and run some routes,'" McClain recalled. "And I was like, 'OK, let's go.'"
So the wide receiver and his good friend the safety sneaked into a darkened Commonwealth Stadium and tested out the new turf.
They ran routes, went at each other like only defensive backs and wide receivers do.
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The roommates and close friends from the same area of Florida have spent most of the last year doing whatever they could to make the other better.
"I love it," said Johnson, the 5-foot-11 wideout who had 22 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns last season. "I always want to go against the best every day because that's going to bring the best out of me."
Johnson is a film junkie. His position coach couldn't remember a day this offseason when he didn't spot the sophomore doing extra work.
"Every time I walk down the hallway, he's sitting in some meeting room by himself or with a friend watching tape while he's eating lunch," wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said. "There's no telling how many hours he's put in to get better on his own."
But it's hardly ever on his own. McClain is usually right there with him.
"We'll watch old games and still taking out little points, giving helpful hints for me about being smarter and knowing what I'm going against and vice versa," Johnson explained.
Constantly Johnson is asking about assignments, what defenses are trying to do in specific coverages, what certain schemes are trying to accomplish.
On the other side, Johnson fills McClain in on what receivers are doing, how they come in and out of their routes.
"What does that mean on a short split: Are they going to go over? Are they going to go out?" explained McClain, a 5-foot-11 safety/nickelback who had 28 tackles last season along with two sacks and seven pass breakups.
And it's about more than just film study.
McClain and Johnson push each other on the field, too.
Johnson is one of the smoothest route runners he's ever gone against, McClain explained. It's made him a better defensive back going up against him every day.
"His route running is really the best I've seen, so he really makes me better," McClain said. "When it comes to Saturdays, it's going to be easy. Going against him all the time — whenever we've got free time at the house — definitely makes me better. Saturdays it will be easier because I'll be going against guys like that."
The admiration is mutual.
Johnson noted that McClain's patience in coverage is exhausting.
"Most DBs, they're fidgety, anxious, they'll do a lot of moving around and stuff, but he's real patient with it, which makes him that much tougher to beat," Johnson said.
Sometimes the competitive edge between them gets a little heated. The two have known each other for years, playing on the same seven-on-seven team in Florida when they were younger, along with fellow Cats Jeff Badet and Jojo Kemp.
It leads to loads of trash talk.
"I'm in his ear every play," McClain said. "'Aww, man, you can't do nothing. You didn't do that right.' I'm in his ear every play."
And once McClain starts talking, it gets Johnson going.
"He normally starts it, but I can't let that go by, so I go at him," Johnson said. "It's like a domino effect, but it's fun."
It doesn't stay on the practice fields, either. Sometimes it follows them back to their home. They can't ever put the competitiveness away.
"It carries over into pretty much everything," Johnson said. "Crazy things. ... We'll just be talking trash in the room and start wrestling."
Coach Mark Stoops probably couldn't have crafted a more ideal relationship than the one that Johnson and McClain have formed.
It's a good example for everyone on the team, Mainord said.
"When you get enough guys that are all working hard together and you get some maturity in the room, that's what happens," the wide receivers coach said. "It becomes something everyone wants to do and help each other out and not get outworked. Those two guys — among others — have really been in there working hard."