Citadel players juggle football, academics, military and food and sleep too
At 7 a.m., the voices of 177 knobs echo off the walls of 5th Battalion at The Citadel. With books held inches in front of their faces, the freshman cadets are reading their “knob knowledge” at the top of their lungs while upperclassmen inspect their uniforms.
Day in the life
How Citadel linebacker Carson Smith spent last Wednesday:
7 a.m.Alarm goes off
7:15 a.m.Morning formation
8-9 a.m.Circuit Analysis class
9-10 a.m.Physics with Calculus class
10-10:40 a.m.ROTC class
10:40-11 a.m.Rehab for shoulder injury
11-Noon Jujitsu class
12:15-12:30 p.m.Media interviews
1-2 p.m.Break; rehab for chest bruise
2:30-3 p.m.Film study
3-4 p.m.Team meeting
4-6 p.m.Football practice
6-6:30 p.m.Shower, dress
7:50-10:30 p.m.Evening Study Period
MidnightGoes to bed
Carson Smith, a sophomore linebacker on the Bulldogs’ nationally ranked and undefeated football team, emerges from his room on the second floor a few minutes after 7.
By 7:15 a.m., all 429 cadets who live in 5th Battalion — “The Lost World,” as it is known on campus — have assembled for morning formation.
As reveille sounds, Smith stands at attention and salutes. It’s the official start of a day at the military school that won’t end until about midnight, when Smith collapses into his bunk.
Before the day is over, Smith will:
Attend classes in circuit analysis, physics with calculus, military training and jujitsu.
Make two trips to the training room for rehabilitation on sore body parts.
Sit for media interviews.
Study film of today’s opponent, North Carolina State.
Go to an hourlong team meeting, then practice football for two hours.
Study in his room for 2½ hours.
Between 7 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. on this day — last Wednesday — there are about 40 minutes of “me time” in Smith’s schedule. And Smith, for one, likes it that way.
“When you are at a place like The Citadel, you don’t want too much free time,” he said. “You run out of stuff to do and you start to get bored. I like to stay busy, so it works for me.”
Regimented study time
The daily life of a Citadel player is nontraditional in the world of college football, comparable only to the service academies and the Bulldogs’ rival, Virginia Military Institute.
“It’s different from 99 percent of the country,” said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, who also has worked at Lehigh, Gettysburg College and Richmond. “There’s never a day when they get on the intercom and say, ‘Today is jeans day.’ It’s always that uniform and the routine, and that makes it different.”
Wednesday is the busiest day of the week for Smith, who is from Mauldin, maintains a 3.9 grade-point average and majors in electrical engineering.
His schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays is lighter, with classes in digital logic and marksmanship, and a sophomore leadership class. Physics lab is on Mondays, when players have a day off from football.
But when Smith compares notes with his friends at other colleges, there’s little doubt that his day is different.
“I’ll call my friend at South Carolina and ask him what he’s doing,” Smith said. “He says, ‘I’m done with my homework and going out on the town to hang out. What about you?’ And I’ve got ESP.”
ESP is Evening Study Period, from 7:50 to 10:30 p.m., when cadets must be in their rooms cracking the books. Papa Company, like all the companies at The Citadel, has a senior academic officer who makes sure all cadets are studying at ESP.
“It helps with time management because you have a set time to do your work,” said Smith, who holds rank as a squad corporal. “At other schools, you have to make that time yourself. Here, at 7:50, you are doing it. And that really helped my freshman year.”
If study time is strictly regimented, so is feeding time. For Smith, a 6-2, 225-pounder who is trying to maintain weight during the season, food and its availability are no small matter. Unlike at other schools, the mess hall at The Citadel is open only three times a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — putting a premium on in-room snacks and care packages from home.
“You can’t just go to the dining hall at 3 p.m. and slide your card and get something to eat,” Smith said. “You get three meals a day, and that can take a toll. I’ve got beef jerky, chips, cashews in my room, stuff I can fill up on pretty quickly.”
Corps vs. Corps Squad
Varsity athletes at The Citadel are known as “Corps Squad,” and tension between athletes and the Corps of Cadets is as old as The Citadel itself, as athletes are perceived to receive special privileges.
Higgins, in his eighth season, has worked hard to integrate his players within the Corps of Cadets. Football players used to be congregated in one or two of the five battalions; now, they are spread throughout the barracks. And Higgins makes sure that an assistant coach is on hand for morning formation at each battalion.
Several players hold rank in the Corps. Smith is a squad corporal, and The Citadel’s highest-ranking cadet, regimental commander Patrick Nugent, came to the school as a walk-on football player.
“Those changes have made a big difference,” said Lt. Col. Tom Harris, the officer who oversees 5th Battalion. “I think the relationship between Corps Squad and the Corps is as good as I’ve seen it.”
Winning helps, of course. When the 3-0 Bulldogs win at Johnson Hagood Stadium, upperclassmen are often granted overnight leave.
Ready for football
If academics dominate Smith’s mornings and nights, afternoons are for football. After lunch and media interviews (reserved for Wednesdays), Smith makes his way to the football offices at Seignious Hall.
There, you might find a player or two catching a much-needed nap before practice.
Sleep is at a premium at The Citadel, and not just for football players.
“The bus trip to App State last week was six hours,” Smith said. “I was knocked out for three or four of them. You put a pillow back there and sleep. ... It’s nice. You’ve got to get it in when you can.”
At Seignious Hall, Smith heads for the training room, where he has already reported once this day for work on a sore shoulder. This time, he’s in for a bruised sternum, suffered when he was accidentally speared by a teammate during last Saturday Appalachian State game.
Director of sports medicine Andy Clawson hooks him up with an ice pack and electrical stimulation for about 20 minutes.
Then it’s to the weight room for a 25-minute workout designed to maintain the strength and flexibility built up during intense summer workouts. Heavy metal music blares as fullback Terrell Dallas and linebacker Yemi Oyegunie stage a smack-talking bench-press showdown to cap the session.
At 2:30, Smith walks into a darkened meeting room, switches on a laptop computer and cues up video of N.C. State. The Citadel’s video team already has downloaded cut-ups of several Wolfpack games so defensive players can study N.C. State’s offense.
On a large wall-mounted screen, Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon drops back over and over again with the click of a remote.
“This helps a lot,” Smith said. “When we get into practice, we’re going full speed. Here, I can slow things down as much as I want, see where my fits are going to be and what my keys are.”
Smith has about a half-hour to himself to watch video before a team meeting at 3 p.m. and practice from 4 to 6 p.m. Then it’s dinner, a shower, ESP, then maybe an hour of free time before it’s time to hit the rack.
“And then,” he said, “it starts all over again.”