CLEMSON — Three charter buses waited outside of Clemson’s indoor practice facility early Monday afternoon as 100-plus football players ran through drills with whistles echoing off the walls inside. Music played over the speaker system and orange cones were scattered around the field — a standard college football practice.
But the buses weren’t Clemson’s and the team inside wasn’t the No. 3 ranked Tigers.
Instead, it was The Citadel Bulldogs.
“We left (Charleston) on Friday morning and we haven’t been back yet,” Citadel coach Brent Thompson said. “You learn how to appreciate home better on these trips.”
Thompson and his Bulldogs packed their bags to leave the Lowcountry last week when their Saturday home game against Presbyterian had to be moved to Clinton because of Hurricane Irma. After blowing out Presbyterian, 48-7, the Bulldogs then traveled to Greenville on Sunday as the weather was expected to only get worse in the Charleston area. They arrived in Travelers Rest and posted up at Lookup Lodge, a retreat center and summer camp featuring log cabin accommodations.
Hoping to still get some practices in, Thompson had a contact through the Fisher DeBerry Foundation who put him in touch with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
“Within about a couple of hours, Coach (Swinney) opened up his doors to us and we’re very, very, very grateful for that. He gave us a two-hour time block to come in here and use whatever they had,” Thompson said. “We’re very appreciative of the fact that he was gracious enough to be able to give us his facility for the day ... we’re a team without a home right now.”
The Citadel is getting used to this. Last year, Hurricane Matthew forced the Bulldogs to leave Charleston and play a home game on the road. But as players went through their practice routine Monday inside of Clemson’s pristine, multi-million dollar facility, quarterback Dominique Allen and running back Cam Jackson couldn’t help being a little star-struck.
“It’s just crazy. We come from an FCS school. We don’t have as nice as facilities as here,” Jackson grinned.
“It’s a great facility. It’s awesome," Allen said. "We walk in and your eyes just go into shock. It’s just like, ‘Holy Cow. This is what kids really have at the big-time level.'''
The Bulldogs will stay another night in Greenville and are working out details to practice at North Greenville University on Tuesday. Thompson is hopeful his team can get back to Charleston by midweek, but he told his players to pack enough clothes in case the Bulldogs have to go straight to Tennessee from the upstate for a Saturday matchup with East Tennessee State.
Thompson said he and his players are deeply grateful for Clemson’s hospitality — particularly considering these two teams play each other at Clemson on Nov. 18.
“It’s very rare but it goes to show you that Coach Swinney was just looking to help out a team that was in need,” Thompson said. “We certainly will be huge Clemson fans all the way up until the point where we’ve got to play them.”