So how do more than a hundred 18- to 24-year-old men keep upbeat playing a physical, draining sport in an increasingly tough season? To find out, three Washington State football players were asked the formula.

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PULLMAN — The losses have piled up.

Eleven last season, four already in this one after just five games.

But despite all the disappointing Saturdays, the Cougars continue to practice five times a week with an energy that belies their record.

The players still work with fervor. The comments between teammates are unfailingly complimentary. The on-field attitudes seem positive.

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So how do more than a hundred 18- to 24-year-old men keep upbeat playing a physical, draining sport in an increasingly tough season?

To find out, three players were asked the formula.

Not only does Chima Nwachukwu lead the Cougars in tackles with 37, the junior safety also is a leader off the field. He’s the chairman of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and has attended Pac-10 and national leadership conferences.

And still he knows how tough practice can be.

“Sometimes, when you’re not winning, it feels like a job. You’re just coming in here and you’re just putting in your hours, to put food on the table, something like that,” he said. “But when you’re winning or when you’re in close games, it feels like it’s more fun. You can actually come out here and play football the way it’s supposed to be played. That’s something we need to start doing, so we see it as something fun you do.”

Center Kenny Alfred has been at WSU long enough to remember when the Cougars were just one win away from a bowl berth in 2006 — and then see it slip away. It was a lesson about living in the moment. And it’s how he keeps centered during tough times.

“There’s a mental satisfaction that comes from winning games,” Alfred said. “At the same time each week has to be an independent animal.”

After suffering through last season — besides the losses, Alfred had a hip injury that required surgery at the end of the year — the fifth-year senior from Gig Harbor takes each practice as a gift.

“One of the biggest parts of football is flipping the switch,” he said. “And I think that’s a part of life, too, from what I’ve been able to see. I’ve been watching my parents and how they act, especially my dad with his job.

“I’ve never heard him yell in my life — he always had a stern control over us — but I know he turns it on when he goes to work.”

Running back Chantz Staden is redshirting this season after suffering a major knee injury in 2008. He’s healed enough to be with the scout team, but lacks the burst he needs to be successful in games. So he sits.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going to be this difficult.”

And it’s worse when WSU loses.

“It’s one thing for us to be losing, but it’s another thing for us to be losing and me having nothing to do with it,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do, on game day.”

At practice he is the most vocal guy on the field, joking, yelling, talking trash, having fun.

“They do appreciate it,” he said of his teammates.

“In the locker room they come up to me, they repeat the jokes I said [on the field]. I don’t remember what I said, but they tell me ‘you had me rolling’ and stuff like that. We need everyone to be like that. I’m just trying to spread [enthusiasm] like a wildfire.”

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