Inside a Top 10 College Football Team's Summer Conditioning Program

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2014

USA Today

CLEMSON, S.C. – Every Friday morning this summer, Adam Humphries’ routine has been the same.

At 4:15 a.m., the Clemson senior wide receiver’s alarm clock jolts him out of bed, the wake-up call to begin his day.

In 75 minutes, the fourth of the week’s four morning workouts will begin. A two-hour mix of weights and running that features sprints up “Cemetery Hill”—an incline next to Memorial Stadium steep enough to make calves burn and hearts race just walking it at a normal pace, much less racing your teammates.

Motivation, Humphries admits, can be fleeting.

“Some mornings you wake up, roll over, and you want to hit the snooze button and chill,” he says.

Instead, Humphries heads to Clemson’s sparkling weight room located next to a tunnel just steps from Memorial Stadium’s turf, grabs a quick snack and goes to work alongside his teammates.

It is a scene that is being repeated across the nation, from Clemson to Corvallis, from Seattle to Tampa.

College football players across the country are pushing themselves beyond their limits to add extra speed and strength, all in the name of greater on-field success this fall.

Here at Clemson, they are, to borrow one of Dabo Swinney’s favorite phrases, “all in.”

Clemson receiver Adam Humphries knows the importance of summer workouts in fall success.
Clemson receiver Adam Humphries knows the importance of summer workouts in fall success.Mike Groll/Associated Press

The Tigers have won 10 games in each of the last three seasons—the program’s longest such stretch since 1987-90—and hope to build on 2013’s 11-2 mark that featured an Orange Bowl win over Ohio State and the Tigers’ second consecutive appearance in the Top 10 of the final Associated Press poll.

While the spotlight shines brightest in the fall, Clemson’s players are well aware that the sweat equity for that success is invested now and cashed in before the watchful gaze of 80,000-plus on crisp autumn Saturdays.

“When you hold up the Orange Bowl, when you hold up an ACC championship, we understand all the work we put in paid off,” said junior receiver Daniel Rodriguez. “It’s striving for the best we want. We want the best, the best is the standard, so we have to put it all in in the offseason.”

With Swinney and his staff of on-field assistants not allowed to have personal contact with players during the summer months, stewardship falls to veteran head strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson and his five-coach staff.

NCAA rules now permit Batson and his staff to communicate with the on-field assistants—something that was verboten as recently as last season. Rodriguez knows Batson is the summer’s sheriff.

“Coach Swinney makes sure we all know everyone on his staff is a representative of himself,” he said. “Coach Batson and all the strength and conditioning coaches, he’s hired individuals to make sure they report to him. It definitely goes up the chain of command.”

Batson calls summer training “the transformation phase.”

“This is where we really kick it in, renewal of mind and body, trying to transform yourself and becoming the best player you can be,” he said. “It’s part of the process with technique and fundamentals. You have to have discipline for the individual and the team and have accountability. You want guys that give great effort with fast tempo and good finishes. As a staff you have to demand that. The best players have to be the hardest workers and the leadership of the team.”

Following spring practice, Batson meets with offensive coordinator Chad Morris and defensive coordinator Brent Venables to get an idea of what they need from their players this fall.

Players like Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez put major sweat equity in summer workouts to have fall success.
Players like Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez put major sweat equity in summer workouts to have fall success.RAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

Morris wants players who play fast, with explosiveness; Venables is looking for attitude, aggressiveness and short-area quickness.

Batson also sits down with Clemson’s seniors to get an idea of what they want out of the summer program, and then he crafts a schedule that mixes strength, speed, agility and conditioning.

Players have the option of working out at 7 a.m. or 2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, although many pick the earlier workout.

Monday begins with a “dynamic warm-up” that features a lot of running and movement and moves into power and speed work, mixing bench-presses, max-effort exercises and upper-body work, followed by sprints up Cemetery Hill. All told, it is, like the rest of the week’s workouts, about two hours long.

Monday afternoon, players meet on their own for “skills and drills,” which is player-led and includes seven-on-seven work—a key component in building chemistry between quarterbacks and receivers.

A Typical Summer Day Inside Clemson's Summer Program
5:30 a.m.Wake up, eat breakfast
7:00 a.m.Report to weight room for varied weight workout
8:00 a.m.Move to outdoor conditioning drills
9 a.m-2 p.m.Summer academic classes on campus
2:15 p.m."Skills and Drills" and 7-on-7 work, players-only.
Interviews with Clemson players, coaches

Tuesdays are “squat days,” Batson says, and feature a lower-body emphasis while also working on the neck and rotation. Weight work is followed by a trip to Clemson’s indoor facility, where players go through cone drills, bag drills and line drills as well as mat drills designed to improve movement and agility, with players breaking up into position groups with individual strength coaches.

Wednesday’s only activity is a late-afternoon “skills and drills” session—much like Monday’s.

Thursday morning is a “power and speed day,” Batson says, with dead lifts, group presses, shoulder and upper body work. That’s followed by another trip to the indoor facility for more circuit work on agility and movement.

Friday, as mentioned, is a whole-team exercise, with the groups alternating between weight work and conditioning.

“Friday morning is easier than Monday,” Batson said. “It’s the last workout of the week, and even if they haven’t slept all night, an hour and 45 minutes and they’re done, they have all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday to themselves.”

Motivation, Rodriguez says, isn’t a huge issue overall.

“Once you get there, you wipe the morning sludge off you, you’re in there and when coach Batson blows that whistle, it’s a mental snap and you’re going,” he said. “I think what gets me going, day-in, day-out, being tired, waking up that early, it’s being with the guys, trying to establish a legacy and leaving a mark at Clemson.”

This summer, NCAA rules allowed teams to make summer conditioning mandatory as opposed to voluntary. But it was never really voluntary, anyway, if you wanted to make an impact in the fall.

Rodriguez spent five years in the Army before coming to Clemson, earning a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He jokes that the workouts are “voluntold”—an Army phrase.

“You can’t take off a full summer semester, at the levels we compete and train at, and be on par when you come back. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “You might be in good shape, but you’re not going to be in the shape we need to be in or the guys we’re working against are in.”

College football has become a year-round grind. Players get about six weeks off per year between spring, summer and winter, and even then they’re working out (Rodriguez prefers biking, swimming and yoga in his off-time).

Clemson believes that leadership and bonds are built by summer workouts.
Clemson believes that leadership and bonds are built by summer workouts.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

“It’s continuous year after year,” Humphries said. “It’s four years of your life where you’ve just got to make the most of it.”

That holds especially true for summer. In the sweat of the weight room and the blazing heat of seven-on-seven drills, players find out who they can trust and which guys are liabilities.

“This is really the time when your team is made,” Humphries said. “The summer is when players take over and put an emphasis on what the team will be. Coaches are a huge influence on the team, but championships come in the locker room.

“If players don’ t want it, you’re not going to win. You’re looking at who wants it the most, who you can rely on, who can show up at the right time. That’s why waking up at 4:30 is key, to see who’s committed, who’ll be there when you really need them.”

Equally important, Batson says, is teaching players how to take care of their bodies, giving them time for recovery and building up the durability and speed they’ll need this fall.

“We do a good job of trying to let them understand the importance of time off to repair and recover,” he said. “They have to understand that their body is their business. It’s no different than owning a franchise of Subway. Your body is your business, and you have to take care of business.”

Take care of business this summer, Clemson’s players figure, and they’ll be in position to take care of business this fall, too.

“For me, when I come in, you have a bond with a guy, they’ve sweated as much as I have, worked out, woken up every Friday at 4:30 in the morning, through the summer, that means something,” Rodriguez said. “That makes you a closer group and you understand the reward at the end of it.”


*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace.


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