Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark, his assistants and all the graduate assistants returned to campus Tuesday afternoon after a 36-hour retreat in Delta. The time away was designed to dot all the i's and cross all the t's before formally welcoming the players to their first August camp together Thursday.
They bivouacked at the Patriot Retreat to go over everything from playbooks to player handbooks, depth charts to dealing with reporters. Everything that goes into the their program, they covered.
"This was our main 'just ball' (meeting)," Clark said. "It's like you hadn't talked about football, not like you haven't done the playbook. But when I'm sitting in the office, if somebody comes by, I'm going to stop what I'm doing.
"This is really good for me. We get to focus on offense, defense, special teams. I don't know about anything earth-shattering, but it's been good for us. It's the signal it's time to go to work."
The South Alabama coaches never retreated when Clark was an assistant there, but he would often get away with his defensive staff before the start of the season. He always went on a retreat as the head coach at Prattville High, taking up temporary residency in the lakefront home of a friend. But that friend has since married, so he needed to find a new encampment.
As long as he's head coach of the Gamecocks, they will do it in Delta. He called this retreat "huge," considering the staff was about to go into its first training camp together.
"I try to put our people together every chance we get," Clark said. "I want to talk about everything. I don't ever want there to be a gray area about anything. When we leave there you should not have a question. Hopefully, we've touched on as much as we can. I think it (the trip) definitely served its purpose."
The Gamecocks are expecting a full complement of 95 players when they hit the practice fields behind Salls Hall on Friday at 3 p.m., including the potential for some significant last-minute arrivals.
Among the biggest issues of camp are determining a starting quarterback and improving a defense that was ranked 100 or worse in several major statistical categories. Clark told The Anniston Star earlier this summer he hoped to establish his starting quarterback within two weeks of the opener at Alabama State.
When the team does hit the field for keeps, look for defensive coordinator Dujuan Walker to move his pieces from the press box and offensive coordinator John Grass to move his from the sideline. Special teams coordinator Daric Riley is expected to be upstairs as well.
"Defensively, it will help him with what's coming, and I'll be on the field to help," Clark said of Walker's perch. "A lot of (Grass on the sideline) has to do with tempo — having the play caller there is big."
As the coaches were wrapping up the retreat, Clark was speaking to a civic club in Montgomery. He has been in such demand he hated to guess the number of groups he's spoken to since getting the JSU job in December.
"Maybe 50. It's a ton," he said. "It's been good, but it's time now to do this other thing. It's football time."