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An unusual part of covering Utah football is that you're often asked about the secret to Kyle Whittingham's bulging calf muscles.

Utah will host Michigan on Sept. 3 and plays in one of the nation's most competitive conferences, in that conference's most competitive division.

But, really, fans say: Tell us about the calves.

The owner of the famed calves responds to this information with a strained laugh.

Do people ever ask him, like, to his face?

He sighs. "On rare occasion, I guess. Yeah."

Whittingham, 55, would rather discuss his players than his workout routine. He makes that clear. But even his players love to discuss his workout routine.

Says senior wideout Kenneth Scott: "It's something a man of his age shouldn't do. I'd be eating ice cream, sitting on the couch and watching TV."

Offers senior linebacker Jared Norris, smiling and shaking his head: "Whatever you need to get through the day, I guess, but he's crazy with the workouts."

It's probably fitting that Utah has one of the nation's most fitness-crazed head coaches. The Utes went 5-2 last season in games decided by one score or less, and they're known for their brutality and relentlessness in the trenches — at high altitude, no less. In an end-of-summer combine, six Utes benched at least 425 pounds and three squatted 800 or more.

Motivation is easy to find in Utah's gym.

If the coach can do it ...

"He's the foundation of our football team," says junior center Hiva Lutui, who has benched 30 reps at 225 pounds and draws inspiration from Whittingham's "24/7" presence at the facility. "Him working hard every day is how our team functions."

Whittingham jokes that he inherited the "workout fanatic" gene from his father, Fred Whittingham Sr., and says he began lifting around seventh grade after begging his dad for a weight set.

Fred Sr. "never prodded me or tried to get me to do it," he says. "It was just something that I enjoyed."

His consistency waned during his first few years as Utah's head coach, and while he can't recall the exact circumstances, he knows that on July 1, 2008, "I'd missed a workout or two and was feeling kind of lousy about it."

He said to himself that day: "You know what? I'm going to see how long I can go without missing."

He's still going.

Fifty-two weeks a year, six days a week — with Sundays off — he hasn't skipped since.

It's "become an obsession," he says. "Maybe an illness."

Whittingham focuses on aerobic work, core work and stretching, and he doesn't lift very often anymore — about 30-40 minutes per week.

"It's more of a Jane Fonda workout," he says.

But that's not how players see it. More than one tried to describe the crunches he does on the pull-up bars, using elastic bands, and ended up invoking a scene from Cirque du Soleil.

"I don't know how he does it," Scott says. "The dude is, like, ridiculously strong."

Players say Whittingham uses the step machine — "either reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle, one of those two," Scott says, miming the action — for up to an hour straight.

(He does try to multitask whenever possible, answering emails, thinking about schemes or watching cut-ups on his laptop, Whittingham said, and doesn't simply lose himself in AC/DC.)

He's also given his team the impression that he works out two to three times per day.

"He's always got a towel on him and he's sweating or something," Norris says.

Adds senior running back Devontae Booker: "He works out more than us. Like, literally."

But it all counts as one workout to Whittingham, who explains: "Sometimes you've gotta do the aerobic at one part of the day and you've got to come back and do your core or your stretching, or whatever it is you've got left."

He doesn't time his workouts so his players see him, but he doesn't mind if they do, he says. Every coach on his staff works out, and he likes that players know that. "I think it sends a good message."

In the offseason, he spends as much time as he can spare mountain biking, road biking, skiing, water skiing, playing tennis and golfing.

He doesn't have a trainer, or seek advice, or talk about it with many people. It's a personal subject for him.

It's his release.

Scott says he's struck by that level of dedication from a guy who has won BCS bowl games and stands to have earned nearly $25 million as Utah's head coach by the time his contract expires in 2018.

"He has everything. Like, literally, everything he could ask for, with the money and everything, and he's still working [out] for the team."

Booker agrees: "It's just motivating for us, just to see him going, as old as he is — "

He catches himself.

"I mean, he ain't that old. I don't want to make it seem like he's that old!"

And oh, about his secret?

You might not like it.

"You've got to make it a priority, and you've got to find time," Whittingham said.

"Bottom line, if it's important to you, you'll find time to do it, whether you've got to get up at 4 in the morning or get a workout in at 10 at night, there's always an opportunity if it's a priority."

Season opener Michigan at Utah

O Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

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