Glenn Harris, a former Howard University football player and one of the Bison's biggest boosters, may understand Coach Floyd Keith as well as any current player.

"He's tough," Harris said. "There are some things that there is no question about with him. 'Do it my way or don't play.'

"He can make you feel like 2 cents but when you make a good play he makes you feel like $100. Without a doubt, his camp is as tough as any in college football. He's got a good background and is a student of the game. Keith is a leader, not a follower."

Keith does not physically resemble the prototype of a taskmaster. The coach, 5-foot-6 and 30 years old, could be mistaken for a mild-mannered professor of anthropology or a tennis coach.

Until he walks onto the field, and then, in his domain, Keith leaves no doubt how he earns his living.

During practice, Keith drives the players. When the Bison tongues are flapping against their breastbones, Keith stampedes them some more. Anyone late for or absent from a practice can look forward to a two-hour marathon of laps around the cinder track.

"This is the hardest I've worked in my life," said defensive tackle Larry Hamilton. "In fact, I can't imagine ever to have to work any harder."

Keith tightly orchestrates each practice. A voice that crackles like a bullwhip offers instant praise or blame.

"A lot of times when you get tired, you need somebody to holler to keep you going," Hamilton said, "I find myself working even harder."

To a man, the players noted that Keith's tough regimen has improved their strength and stamina. The first-year coach gave the squad a preview over the winter when he institued Howard's first-ever offseason conditioning program.

"No matter what West Virginia State (Howard's first opponent) puts out there, this team will have been through worse in practice," Keith said.

At least three players who saw game time last season left the team this summer because of the tough practices and off-field discipline by Keith. Others still on the squad have reportedly expressed displeasure at the heretofore unheard of treatment of Bison players.

"A lot of them are discontent," said cheerleader Othalene Johnson. "They are upset at how strict he is. They're not accustomed to running laps if they miss practice. A few others think the team needs the strictness."

The coach's enforced curfews and mandatory study table -- both novelties -- ensure no Bison will become a social butterfly during the season.

"Keith is so new that I think the players just have to get accustomed to him," Johnson said. "A lot of the players got along real well with Doug Porter. There could be some resentment at the man who replaced him." Porter was released following last season.

"Various people respond in various ways. The ones who come from strong football backgrounds respond to Keith's ways better. Some of the guys just aren't used to his type of forwardness," Harris said.

Hamilton is one who sees the benefit of Keith's philosophy. "I'm elated over the discipline. The fellows now realize they can go a step further on the field than they though they could."

Besides the scholarship athletes who dropped out, several walk-ons have walked off. Who needs the drudgery without the incentive of a grant-in-aid? In addition, several front line players are academically ineligible.

"We don't have the kind of depth we'd like to have," Keith said. "But the cream comes to the top. The guys who dropped off, we don't need anyway."

The Bison who have stuck it out will likely find that their leader is a loyal one. Keith refuses to even hint at rapping a player in media interviews. He is sure of his system and confident about the players he will put on the field to implement it.

"I think that in the next three years we'll see the results of Keith's regime," Harris said.

The players and fans may feel they have to wait only one or two games to evaluate the changes. But Leo Miles, Howard's athletic director, is already pleased with the early results.

"I still have the same regard for Floyd that I did when I hired him," Miles said. "He has come in and brought a new attitude and spirit in terms of organization and discipline.

"He's led some individuals to make decisions whether to stay or leave. It's good that he created that atmosphere the ones that left made the right decision for themselves; the ones still here will profit from their choice.

"His influence will have a spillover to other (athletic) programs. The basketball and soccer players watch the football team. Those guys are seeing how the football players are dedicated. That's a good thing."

Keith came to Howard with recommendations from various coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Eight and Big Ten, according to Miles. He had prepped as an assistant at Miami of Ohio -- which produced the likes of Paul Brown, Woody Hayes and Ara Parseghian -- Ohio Northern and Colorado.

Although Keith, a native of Lima, Ohio, had never served as a head coach, he won out over several others from successful programs.

"When I met him, he had done his homework," Miles said. "That let me know he was dedicated. He could tell me how many miles it was from Howard's campus to that of an opponent.

"He explained what he would do and how he would do it. I could see every aspect of it. When he finished doing his thing at the interview, there was nothing left for me to ask."

Miles signed Keith to a five-year pact, the longest in the school's history.

Off the field, Keith is affable, possessing a quick sense of humor. He displayed some of it at a recent press luncheon -- another Howard first.

"Remember this name -- (tailback) Bufus Outlaw."

"(Defensive end) Thomas Clark will hit anything that moves. Sometimes we have to tell him which moving thing to hit."