BOSTON, Mass. — Football players, probably as much as any athlete, are all about staying in a routine. From the moment they begin their high school careers, their life is surrounded by structure and staying on the same schedule.
Workouts, eating and practice are at the same time every day all year long. Seldom, especially when they are conditioning their bodies, do they get away from their routine. When the football season starts, that structure becomes even more prevalent than it was before.
The whole season is based on a routine. At Clemson, where no one sticks to a routine better than head coach Dabo Swinney, it practices are Monday-Thursday. Friday is a travel day, even during home games the team stays at an off campus hotel, Saturday is game day and Sunday is a day off. On Mondays it starts all over again.
“We love routine and we like to have some continuity in that routine,” Swinney said.
However, the last three weeks, the third-ranked Tigers routine has been anything but, routine. Following the Tigers win over S.C. State on Sept. 17, Clemson turned around the next day and began preparations for a Thursday night game at Georgia Tech. The Tigers actually lost two days of practice so Swinney combined his team’s usual off day (Sunday) with Monday to make up for the day the team lost in preparations. Monday was combined with Tuesday’s schedule and by the real Tuesday, the Tigers were on Wednesday’s schedule and then Wednesday was like a Friday normally would be like.
The plan, which Swinney has used for the last six years, won the Tigers their sixth straight ESPN Thursday night game, 26-7, over Georgia Tech.
After the Georgia Tech win, Clemson got back to its normal schedule, right? Not so fast. The Tigers were on their normal schedule leading up to last week’s win over Louisville, but then on Sunday, Clemson had to go off schedule, again, to prepare for the program’s first Friday night regular-season game in 60 years when it travels to Boston College for a 7:30 p.m. kick on Friday.
“Yea, I don’t like it. I want to be watching my son on Friday,” Swinney said earlier this week about having to play on a Friday night. “I don’t like the fact that it takes away from the high schools on Friday night. I have never liked it. But I don’t control it. Those are all T.V. contract decisions. We don’t have any control over it so I don’t really fret about it or worry about it. We just do what we do, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Since the Tigers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) are not playing until Friday as opposed to a Thursday, they actually practiced just as many days. Instead of getting their normal Sunday off, they treated it like a Monday practice and then so on through the rest of the week.
“A normal week is four days and we travel on the fifth so Coach Swinney just made us practice the day after the Louisville game. So we still get all of our days in, we’re just going to play Friday instead of on Saturday,” tight end Jordan Leggett said.
This is the second year in a row Clemson has had a crazy schedule in the first half of the season. Last year, it played Louisville on a Thursday and then had the next week off, giving them 16 days between the Louisville game and the Notre Dame game.
“It was just a strange first half of the season,” Swinney said. “Last year we played two games and we got a very short week to travel to Louisville, to play on a Thursday night. Then we had a sixteen-day layoff, two weekends that we didn’t have a game. Then we’re playing Notre Dame in a hurricane.
“So just it was a very funky start to the season last year and it’s kind of been the same this year. This is our third road trip in our first six games and we’ve had already one short week at Georgia Tech on a Thursday night. Then you come back and you’re having a big, emotional game like you had Saturday night. Then you’re faced with another short week and a long trip to Boston. So the schedule it’s been a little bit of a challenge in that regard. But our guys have responded well. When this one’s over, these last six games, the second half of our season, we’re going to have a lot of normalcy as far as our routine that we like to stick to.”
Then everything will be routine again.