Thanks to the influx of young players who will be counted upon to play big roles this season — especially on the defensive side of the ball — Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe is giving his players a break this training camp, hoping that doing away with the early rising gives rise to peak performance.
Instead of two-a-days starting at the crack of dawn, the first practice of any day now will be no earlier than 9:30 a.m. On the days they go out only once — like Monday’s first official day of practice — it’s 3:30 p.m.
“I think anybody would take that, two or three more hours of sleep,” senior flanker Alan Bonner said during Friday’s team media day. “The more the better. I can promise you every athlete loves to sleep. The more sleep, the better the practice.”
That’s the idea anyway.
In recent years, the Gamecocks typically would hit the sack at 10:30, then rise at 4:30 in order to be in the treatment room at 5 to make it on the field by 5:30. Their down time would come between breakfast and lunch before they went at it again in the afternoon — before doing it all again that night.
“It will be nicer ... to be able to kind of drag around and go brush your teeth, go take a shower if you want to,” senior defensive back Brooks Robinson said. “Usually early in the morning you wake up and it’s ‘Oh gosh, I’ve gotta go,’ and just hop in the truck.”
Even when junior fullback Jerry Slota was at Colorado, the team didn’t roll out of bed until 6:45.
The early-morning starts did help the Gamecocks beat the stifling heat generally accompanying the first month of practice, but what team officials ultimately discovered is that by the end of camp the regimen impacted performance.
“I think it’s going to be a great schedule for helping us recover,” Slota said.
Everything the Gamecocks are doing these days is geared toward optimizing performance.
“I really think as young as we are that we may need a routine that allows for longer-term recovery,” Crowe said. “We’re not used to getting up at 4:30 and then going to sleep at 10.
“You’ve got to know how to get your body to recover to do that. I don’t trust that these young ones have that type of command. I think keeping within their natural regimen — bed at 11, up at 7 with eight long hours of work — (is the way to go). I try to accommodate the development of young players with everything.”
And there will be a lot of those. Crowe likes to point out the avreage age of the players who will step on the field when the Gamecocks play their season opener at Arkansas Sept. 1 will be 19.6 years.
The change in their sleep patterns is just one of myriad changes the Gamecocks have made that most fans won’t even notice when the team hits the field. They’ve implemented academic reforms several years ago, but they’ve sought to recruit a higher caliber of player both athletically and academically while expanding their recruiting footprint. They’ve even taken the approach to their weight training and conditioning programs, going so far as to hire a player development specialist who is ostensibly a personal trainer for 100.
Bonner said the vibe in the program now “feels more professional” than when he first arrived.
“It’s a different culture of a team that’s going to roll out on the field in Fayetteville than any in the previous 12 years,” Crowe said. “People will say what do I see different? I don’t know if you’ll see different, but what’s in those uniforms will be different because they’ve done things differently. Part of that was where we always needed to be, quite honestly, and just didn’t feel like we had the structure in place doing it.
“The every-day life of a player, the structure and accountability — even expectations — have gone to a higher level. You can get in trouble a lot easier on our football team than what you used to. You had to be more high qualified to sign a scholarship than you ever had before. Those are good things that should make for a better program.
“We had some major inconsistencies in 12 years — really high highs and some really unexplainable bottoms — and it’s the bottoms I focus on. Not having your APR keeping you from going to the playoffs, losing a 24-point lead, stuff like that. That’s where the structure and accountability come in to keep those things from happening.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.