BERKELEY -- It's cold. It's dark. It's 6:30 a.m. on a typical winter Friday morning, and Cal's football team has gathered at Memorial Stadium for some conditioning fun and games.

"There's cones, eight stations set up, and our coaches just run us into the ground," Cal senior linebacker Zack Follett said Tuesday. "They have trash cans by every station for throwing up.

"We're working hard. We haven't worked this hard since we've been here. There's no B.S. going on."

You knew changes were coming to Cal's football team in the wake of latest season's stunning fall from national title contention to something called the Armed Services Bowl.

These Friday morning get-togethers approaching the March 31 start of spring practice are just part of coach Jeff Tedford's master plan to get the Bears back on track after a 7-6 season that seemed like Armageddon to some Old Blues.

Tedford is cracking down, as he needed to do. But he's also lifting up his team's shattered spirits. It's a two-pronged approach, part iron fist, part velvet glove.

After what happened last season, the Bears need plenty of tough love and rehabilitation. Cal started 5-0 then lost six of its next seven games, including the Big Game to Stanford.

"At some point we lost our confidence," Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said. "We lost the fun in the game. So (Tedford's) bringing a whole new attitude."

Tedford is drawing on some of the team- and morale-building skills he used six years ago when he arrived in Berkeley and took over a demoralized group coming off a 1-10 disaster.

Tedford was as much a sports psychologist as he was a football coach that offseason. His therapy sessions helped resurrect the careers of quarterback Kyle Boller and so many other downtrodden Bears. In Tedford's first season, Cal went 7-5.

"We're spending more time off the field talking about things," Tedford said. "We're having full-team meetings to be able to go over some things and talk. That's been good. I think the team's been very receptive, and I think they're getting a lot out of it."

This offseason, Tedford has used John Maxwell's book "Talent is Never Enough" as a teaching tool for his team.

According to Williams, Tedford and his coaches have boiled down some of the book's key points and presented them -- via PowerPoint -- to the team. Maxwell offers 13 ways to maximize talent, everything from courage to teamwork.

"It talks about passion, belief, initiative, things like that," Williams said. "Things like that and how to apply it to our life. Because they feel, and we're starting to feel as well as players, if you better the man, the player will come with it."

It's clear that last year's stumble shook Tedford to the core. He had never been through anything like that as a head coach. Nothing he tried seemed to work. As the losses piled up, he became more and more frustrated.

Once the season ended, Tedford began analyzing his entire program, from top to bottom. He shook up his coaching staff, on both sides of the ball. He gave up his full-time play-calling duties and handed them to new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.

"This will free me up to do a little bit more with the team as a whole," Tedford said.

That whole-team work has already begun.

"Coach Tedford's on us harder than he's ever been," Follett said. "He's reinforcing the 'Tedford Law' around here. When I first got here, I saw how it was. Then two years went by, and I saw how much lenience was being allowed.

"He kind of recognized that. That's the No. 1 change that he's been making. That's helping our team."

Follett said he welcomed the return of a tougher, more demanding Tedford. After what happened last season, it's not surprising that Tedford's players are receptive to anything that will help them avoid a repeat.

"We've been pushing them hard, but they've been pushing themselves, which is great to see," Tedford said. "There's a lot of motivation there. This is probably the best chemistry we've had on this team since we've been here.

"I think it's' a combination of great leadership at the top combined with great young people who are very receptive to that leadership. With the workouts, they've been very impressive."

Especially on those cold, dark Friday mornings.

Contact Eric Gilmore at egilmore@bayareanewsgroup.com.