Players arrived in the winter predawn hours to find trash cans stationed throughout the football facility.

They’d been told to expect the hardest workout of their lives. There would be no water breaks and no quitting. Just 90 minutes of strength coaches barking orders, hustling players from station to station, demanding they repeat the drill if anyone faltered.

“Just remember, gentlemen, the body is a wonderful machine,” an assistant coach had told them. “You will pass out before you die. If you pass out, the trainers will take care of you.”

Near the end of the workout, one player collapsed. Coaches yelled at him to complete the drill. He did, then collapsed again.

Two hours later, he was dead.

The player’s name was Devaughn Darling. He died 18 years ago. He was a linebacker at Florida State.

You’d think college football coaches would have learned something since then, but sometimes I’m not so sure. Reading the details of workouts that sent three Oregon players to the hospital in 2017 — workouts directed by Willie Taggart, now the coach at Florida State — it’s hard to miss the similarities to Bobby Bowden’s famous mat drills, the ones that killed Devaughn Darling in 2001.

Taggart grew up a Seminole fan and described Florida State as his dream job when he left Oregon after one season. It would be no surprise if he modeled his winter conditioning program, at least in part, after the one used by FSU for decades.

Even today, you can read stories mythologizing those famous mat drills as the secret to Florida State’s championship success. And maybe that’s true. Maybe Bowden wouldn’t have won all those games without pushing his players to their breaking point every winter.

Or maybe it’s all a psychological game, a way of establishing control. Maybe it’s a relic from another era, when denying players water and practicing in extreme heat were considered acceptable ways of building toughness.

With everything we know now about sports science, it’s inexcusable to have coaches living in the Dark Ages in 2019. That shouldn’t happen anywhere, and especially not at Oregon, a school that constantly brags about its cutting-edge resources for student-athletes.

Workouts that sent three Oregon players to the hospital with rhabdomyolysis in 2017 were a colossal blunder on many fronts. That was apparent at the time, and it’s even more apparent now that two of those players, Doug Brenner and Sam Poutasi, are suing the university, the NCAA, Taggart and strength coach Irele Oderinde for negligence.

Oderinde never should have been hired. He wasn’t qualified. Those workouts never should have happened.

Taggart’s disingenuous apology was a joke, as he demonstrated by describing coverage of the incident as “bogus.” Retaliating against the reporter who broke the story was petty and unprofessional. Oregon’s attempts at damage control look cravenly self-serving.

I understand we’re only hearing one side of the story, the one presented by Brenner and Poutasi in their lawsuits. Maybe information will emerge that paints those workouts in a different light. But Brenner’s account tracks closely with the reporting at the time, and it’s been corroborated by players who witnessed the incident but aren’t party to the lawsuits.

Statistically, players are far more likely to die in offseason workouts than they are from traumatic injuries on the field. While public awareness about head injuries is both warranted and overdue, it remains a mystery why more attention isn’t paid to the dangers of exercise-related illness.

I suspect that has something to do with the visual impact of watching a player’s head snap back, or seeing a player carried off the field on a stretcher. These workouts happen behind closed doors, and it’s considered taboo for players to complain about them. If fans saw what really happens, I suspect the outcry would be more intense.

There’s no place in today’s game for workouts that push players past their psychological and physical breaking points. The NCAA, already up to its neck in litigation for other issues, should see that and take steps to enforce the best-practice guidelines already on the books.

I’m sure some people will view this as the further wussification of football, creating coddled players and nice-guy coaches incapable of instilling discipline. My patience for that argument is thin. Treating players with dignity and respect is a form of discipline, and coaches who can’t practice it don’t deserve to lead young athletes.

In the past, coaches could claim ignorance about practices that endangered the health and safety of their players. That’s no longer the case. Football is dangerous enough as it is, and there’s no excuse for ignoring the body of evidence when it comes to offseason workouts.

Florida State, of all schools, should know that.