As coaches' sons and college teammates, Kevin Kolb and Kendal Briles would often sit around and spin yarns about their demanding dads.
Briles' dad, Art, coaches both players at Houston. Kolb played most of his high school ball under his dad, Roy.
"We'd see whose stories were the worst," said Kolb, the Cougars' record-setting senior quarterback. "[Kendal] usually would beat me."
But Kolb (pronounced "cob") had one memory that trumped those of his buddy.
Roy Kolb's wake-up call came at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning when Kevin was in fifth grade. Kevin had bean-stalked three or four inches that year on his way to a 6-foot-3 frame.
"I had growing pains real bad," Kevin recalled. "Your knees start hurting and aching all the time. I seriously could hardly walk."
Even so, Roy ordered him to run two miles with his sister, Amy, a track athlete.
"He didn't care," Kevin said. "He didn't want to hear it. I had to go run, crying for the whole entire 30 minutes I was out there."
Despite the tough-love tactics, Kevin calls Roy his biggest influence.
"He was really, really tough, but it's helped me out," Kevin said. "When stuff's going tough, I'll be able to fight through it. I've learned to deal with every situation."
Much like Kolb did that Saturday morning, Houston is fighting through its own growing pains. The Cougars have had only three winning seasons since 1990, when quarterback David Klingler led them to an 8-0 start.
But behind Kolb, Houston has won its first three games for the first time since 1990. The Cougars hope to reach consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1980-81.
"We're fighters," star wide receiver Vincent Marshall said. "We're the type of team that's never going to give up."
Houston truly can validate itself Saturday, when it plays host to undefeated Oklahoma State. The Cougars have lost five straight games to Big 12 opponents.
"They've got good athletes, Big 12 athletes," Kolb said. "Hopefully, our fire and intensity will outmatch theirs."
Oklahoma State will be hard-pressed to match Kolb's fervor.
His career statistics are insane -- 10,035 passing yards; 60 touchdowns; 60-percent completion percentage; 10,632 yards of total offense. He has claimed nearly every school passing record, joining Klingler and Heisman
Trophy winner Andre Ware as program legends.
Kolb leads Division I-A quarterbacks with 39 consecutive starts, and he already has 880 passing yards and eight touchdowns this season.
"Kevin brings a lot of courage, a lot of intelligence and a lot of guts," Art Briles said. "Those are certainly three characteristics you want in a guy, and he's got them all."
Despite Kolb's early-morning runs with sis, it was his supposedly slow feet that deterred many big programs from recruiting him early (for the record, he has 17 rushing touchdowns at Houston). By the time they returned during his senior year at Stephenville (Texas) High, Kolb already had verbally committed to, of all schools, Oklahoma State.
He changed his mind when Briles, a quarterback whiz who had coached Stephenville from 1988-99, was hired as Houston's coach.
"He's the epitome of somebody who fights every single day," Kolb said of Briles.
Kolb earned Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors in 2003, throwing for 3,131 yards with a passer rating of 153.75.
His big numbers continued in 2004, but the wins didn't follow. Houston went 3-8.
"You kind of [get] lost in that, you know?" Kolb said. "You start looking at your personal accomplishments instead of the team's. In one aspect, you have to look out for yourself, but everybody knows that your success comes through what you do as a whole. That's what I've realized in my maturity."
The balancing act is especially challenging this season.
Kolb has his own Web site (www.kolbheismanwatch.com), complete with the Beastie Boys' "So What'cha Want" playing as background music. Kolb posts weekly messages and likes the attention the site brings to the program, but he's far from wrapped up in it.
"When it comes to the Heisman talk, he doesn't really want to talk about it, so we really don't talk about it," Marshall said.
Instead, Kolb and Marshall talk about their shared passions of fishing and hunting.
Both players debuted as freshmen, and their on-field chemistry has spurred the Cougars. The pair has connected 20 times for touchdowns, breaking the previous school record of 19 set by Ware and Manny Hazard.
Marshall has caught a pass in 39 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Division I-A.
"When you play beside each other for four years, you have an appreciation for what's going to happen," Briles said.
Kolb often draws comparisons to Brett Favre, and for good reason. Both are country boys, both wear No. 4, and both never quit.
"They're still trying to talk him into getting out of the league, and he don't want to," Kolb said of Favre. "It doesn't matter to him. He just enjoys playing the game and fights every time he goes out."
The Cougars are taking the same attitude, from Kolb on down. With a date at Miami following the Oklahoma State game, they understand the magnitude of the moment.
"It's not always easy in a smaller program," Kolb said. "You don't get the crowds, you don't get the support and the respect. You have to fight for everything you've got.
"This is a big stepping stone for us. If we can go in and beat those two teams and win the conference, we'll bring the prestige back to U of H."
Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.