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Carson’s Countdown To The Peach Bowl

Chad Carson, a sophomore linebacker on the Clemson football team, will provide a day-to-day report on as he and the Tigers prepare for the 1999 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Carson is a second-team GTE Academic All-American and is the second leading tackler on the Clemson team with 128 tackles. The native of Newnan, GA had eight games of at least 10 tackles, including a season high 16 in the win over Wake Forest, and 15 in the win over North Carolina.

| Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight | Day Nine |Day Ten | Day Eleven |

Wednesday, December 29:

Today is the last day before the game, and it is also the last day I will be doing my daily journal. I’ve enjoyed writing about my experiences, and I hope people might have enjoyed reading a little about the everyday preparation of a college football player.

Today is not as eventful as the previous days of the week. We did not have a practice at all, so we were able to sleep in very late in the morning. The late wake-up was definitely appreciated by all of the players. At 11:30 the players once again put on their coats and ties for a scholarship luncheon. The luncheon was to award high school student athletes and some college student-athletes from the two teams for their accomplishments. The food and service were once again great at the Marriott Marquis.

After the banquet, the players had the option of going to watch the Hawks play the Pacers at the new Phillips arena. I decided to stay at the hotel to just rest and relax. The day before the game I always like as much time as possible to just lay around and be to myself. I guess it just helps me to begin to focus, and it also lets me rest my body and mind. I usually like to read a book or watch a little TV. This week I began reading the novel Contact, by Carl Sagan. The movie of this book fascinated me, and so far, the book has been far better than the movie.

Later this afternoon the team will assume a normal pregame schedule, which includes a meal together and an earlier curfew. Tomorrow we will again be allowed to sleep later. There will be a team chapel at some point later in the morning. We might have a meeting with our coaches, but most importantly we will all focus on beating Mississippi St. at 7:30. I am very ready for the game to start.

After so much preparation, actually playing the game will be a relief and a whole lot of fun. I already see many Clemson fans beginning to pile into the hotel, and I know many more are on their way to Atlanta. I can’t wait to see the Georgia Dome packed with Clemson orange, and I know everyone will be sceaming their lungs out to help the Clemson Tigers win a big bowl game which will propel the program to even bigger and better things next year. See you there!

Tuesday, December 28:

Today’s schedule began bright and early with a 6:45 wake up call. All the players and coaches then met for the Peach Bowl FCA Breakfast. The breakfast was a very large event, and several large name stars spoke to the audience. The stars included Anthony Munoz, John Smoltz, and Jeff Foxworthy. The speakers were all great, but Jeff Foxworthy especially had everyone laughing out loud. I also talked briefly to the founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, who is a wonderful person as well as a succesful business man.

After the breakfast we went immediately to the Georgia Dome for our first indoor practice. I have lived in the Atlanta area since before the Georgia Dome was even built, so I have been to numerous games and events in the building. I almost played in the dome during high school, but my high school, Woodward Academy, lost in the third round of the playoffs and did not make it to the semifinals which were held in the dome. Even after watching so many games in the building, nothing could compare to walking out on the field and looking around the enourmous stadium.

We did special teams for the first 50 minutes of practice, and then we finished up with 50 minutes of work against the scout teams. The team didn’t wear any pads, so most of the practice was mental polish up work. During he the second part of practice loud crowd noise was played over the loud speakers, and you literally could not hear someone next to you even if they screamed. The coaches are planning on the gameday crowd being extremely loud inside the closed structure of the Dome.

The rest of the day will be time for the players to rest and lay around the hotel. I’ll probably read a book or nap for a couple of hours, and then I have some interviews with ESPN and possibly a couple more reporters.

At 7:30 the two Peach Bowl teams will have an awards banquet. We will all dress in coat and tie, and knowing the Peach Bowl, I’m sure there will be another great meal.

Monday, December 27:

Yesterday on the 26th of December we reported to the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta. I live in Newnan, GA, so my parents and I only had to drive 35 minutes to reach the hotel. The 26th of December was my birthday, so we had to celebrate my birthday the same day as Christmas celebrations on the 25th.

The Peach Bowl really takes care of its teams. The hotel is a spectacular building, with fast glass elevators, plush rooms, and a wonderful view of the skyscrapers of downtown.

On the first night, the Peach Bowl held a welcoming party for both teams. The party included great food and loud music. The Falcons’ cheerleaders actually danced at the party, and they had a grudge push-up contest between Clemson and Mississippi St. We chose Kenzi Ross as our representative, and of course, we won in a land-slide, which really got all the players hyped up.

The afternoon of the 26th we held our first practice. I have to admit that the players were initially a little rusty after the long drives that many guys made. After about 15 minutes, however, the pace shifted back to normal and we picked up where we left off. The practice dress was shoulder pads, thigh pads, and hip pads. We mainly worked on plays against the scout teams, but we also had controlled pass and blitz scrimmages against the other first teamers.

We are practicing at Georgia Tech, and it is a little unusual to be in the enemies lair, so to speak. The view during practice is unusual for Clemson people, because instead of rolling hills, orange sunsets, and lake Hartwell in the background, we see skyscrapers and the interstate. My mom Nancy, dad Tom, and little brother Andrew(he’s actually 6’4″ and a junior in high school, but I still call him little) were able to watch the whole practice, and I was able to spend a little time with them afterwards.

Today’s practice was very similar to yesterday’s. The practice was held in the morning so the temperature was pretty cool. I think the attitude and condition of the players was much better today. Everyone was really focused and excited throughout the practice. I think all of this excitement will carry over onto the field Thursday, and all of the fans will see how all of this hard work will finally pay off.

Today during the afternoon many players are going to visit children at Egelston Children’s hospital. I think these kind of events are more rewarding and worthwhile than any other during the bowl. It still amazes me what an influence and excitement just a small conversation with a football player creates for a kid. I know when I was younger, I would have done anything to get to know a real college football player, so meeting kids now is one of the most rewarding parts of being a player.

Tuesday, December 21:

It was a rainy day in Clemson for today’s morning practice. Since it was impossible to work out outside, Coach Bowden split the defense and offense up into Jervey Gym and Fike Gym, respectively. Since no kicking game could be done inside, we worked against the scout team offense for a couple of hours.

Today’s practice was scheduled to be in shoulder pads, shorts, thigh and hip pads, so we still wore this attire for our inside practice. Running full speed plays against the offense is a little unusual indoors on a court, because you definitely can not take people to the ground with the hard surface. Traditionally in younger levels of football, a rainy day might be a postive thing for players because practice will be lighter and indoors. At the college level, however, things are run like a business, and the job has to be done full speed every day-rain or shine. Therefore, most players would actually just assume it wouldn’t rain so we can go outside and get our normal work done on the nice, soft grass.

The plays we are running during these scrimmages against the scout team are starting to become more and more familiar. With all of this time to work against the opposition’s offense, we are trying to pick up any little tendencies, consistencies, or keys that the offensive schemes might give. We know that Mississippi State is doing the exact same thing, so who ever will be able to prepare the best might have that small advantage which can be crucial in a close game.

Tommorow is the last practice day at Clemson. It will be a lighter practice in shorts and shirts, and the kicking game will be heavilly emphasized. As soon as practice is over I will be rushing out of town and driving the 2 and a half hour trip back to Newnan, GA. I’m looking forward to a nice, relaxing few days for Christmas. The 26th will be the beginning of our stay in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl at the Marriott Marquee. I know all the players will be excited as the final countdown to the big game begins.

Monday, December 20:

I didn’t write a journal for yesterday since we did not have practice, but I did have a great pre-Christmas meal with the Carson side of my family. My cousin Steve Carson (a proud Clemson grad living in Greenville) was also at the get-together, and he has been a great friend to me all year when I needed to get away from the crazy football schedule. The two of us, along with many other football players, often meet to eat at Mac’s Drive-in, which has always been football the players’ favorite place for cheesburgers, fries, and sweet tea.

Before practice today we once again watched film for about an hour and a half. I think one characteristic of a bowl game is that the teams have enormous amounts of time to prepare for the opponent. During the season we only have five real days of preparation for one team, but now we have been practicing and studying film for at least 6-7 days (with at least 7 more to come). I’m not sure of the effect that all of this preparation will have on the game, but I know I will be very eager (and I already am) to go out and finally play the game. After watching so much film, I feel like I know their game films better than any of the Mississippi St. fans or even the players know it themselves.

After a day of rest, we got back to business with another full pads practice. We once again did a lot of fundamentals (tackling drills, footwork drills, etc), a running game scrimmage, and one-on-one challenges.

The team also had a scrimmage in which the first team offense went against the first team defense for 8-10 straight plays. From my perspectice, the defense played very well in most of today’s scrimmage, and as a result the offense was never able to get near the endzone against us. Knowing what a great offense our team has, the defense takes a lot of pride in trying to stop such a potent attack every day in practice.

At the end of practice we got to watch some of the younger players and walk-ons have a big scrimmage of their own. We have some great younger players and walkons who will definitely make a huge impact in the very near future. This scrimmage showed me that the intensity and excitement that pervades every one of our practices and scrimmages exists throughout the team, from the starters all the way to the future starters and scout teamers.

Saturday, December 18:

Today was a light practice with no pads, and I promise it was much appreciated from a players’ standpoint. After three days of hitting, my body was beginning to get sore and beat up. Coach Bowden is also giving us no practice on Sunday, so I will enjoy a nice, long day of rest and relaxation.

It feels a little unusual to be playing football so close to Christmas, and I have not been able to get in the Christmas spirit I normally enjoy around this time of year. I will have to listen to some good Christmas music to catch up on the time I missed while we were practicing. One good thing about playing in the Peach Bowl on December 30 is that we get 3 days off to be at home with our families on Christmas. After a nice 3 day Christmas break, we’ll be ready to travel to Atlanta and show the city what Clemson football is all about.

My hometown of Newnan, Ga is only 30 minutes outside of Atlanta, so this bowl game will be very special for me, my family, and my friends. Atlanta and Georgia are dominated primarily by Bulldog (Georgia that is) and Yellow Jacket fans, and I am excited that they will get to see what the school right up I-85 is all about. Clemson is a great place to go to school and to play football, and I think playing in the Peach Bowl will really help a lot of prospective students and players from Georgia notice the excitement and energy that Clemson has.

Friday, December 17:

After two days of full-pads practices, the coaches toned things down a little bit by having practice in shells (similar to full pads, but no knee pads are worn and shorts are worn instead of the football pants). They also shortened practice to 18 five minute periods instead of 21. We still hit during practice, but the linebackers, for example, are told to let up after first hitting a running back and wrapping him up.

Most of today’s practice involved working against the scout team, which runs the Mississipi State plays. When we work against the other team’s offense in practice, a linebacker must combine many of his faculties in order to succesfully do his job. On any given play, a linebacker first gets the defensive call from coach Herring on the sideline. In our defense, the linebackers are all responsible for yelling out the play which we just recognized from coach’s signals. Usually right as coach signals in the play, we must immediately recognize the formation of the offense as they run to the line. The linebackers must recognize the direction of the strength, and then we must call it out so the rest of the defense can line up. The strength usually means where the tight-end is lined up, but it can also depend upon numerous other factors, including the number of receivers or the location of the ball in relation to the hashmark. After the strength is determined, we often have various responsibilities such as covering a back or tight-end, blitzing, or making sure everyone else is lined up correctly.

After all of this pre-play thinking is finally completed, the actual action takes place. The action of a play includes knowing which hole to fit in on a run, recognizing play-action in order to drop into pass coverage, or finding the correct gap in which to blitz. Even when a linebacker correctly makes it through all of these checkpoints of a play, he could still completely fail at his job if he doesn’t play intense, tenacious, and full speed. If even one small mistake is made in any of these linebacker responsibilities, the coach and fan will usually notice the result as a nice run, a complete pass, or a touchdown. I forgot to mention that all the resposiblities and recognitions usually take place in the small time frame of around 10 seconds. So much for the perception that football players don’t need to be quick-witted or intelligent.

During any practice, countless plays such as the one previously decribed take place. It’s no surprise that after these practices most of the players are both physically and mentally tired from the focus and physical exertion required on every single play involved in football.

Thursday, December 16:

Today was the second day in a row of full pads/full hit practices. The schedule was pretty much the same as yesterday, but I think both the offense and defense turned up the intensity a little bit. I think I can speak for most of the players in saying that we hate to lose in anything, and we show this during the drills and scrimmages during practice.

The last two days we have done 10 minutes of one-on-one challenges that we call board drills. The linebackers go against the running backs, the defensive ends against the tightends, and the interior defensive lineman against the offensive lineman. This drill starts the grudge match of offense vs defense, and it continues throughout the practice into inside drill (a running game scrimmage), pass skeleton (a passing game scrimmage), and all out scrimmage.

On the defensive side of the ball, we can usually count on Robert Carswell to get the troops fired up (and talk a little trash to the offense). Robert gets in on every single play, whether it’s making a tackle, grabbing an interception, or tackling another defensive player when he makes a good play. During intense pracitces which require a lot of work and focus, rivalries against the offense make the work a little more fun and exciting.

After practice was over we once again ran some conditioning. Most of the team also went straight to the weightroom to spend some quality time with the weight-coaches (otherwise known as a workout). Workouts are not as long after practice, but they still work us out to keep us from losing all the strength we’ve gained during the off-season.

Wednesday, December 15:

Today the real fun began. Meetings started at 8:30, so I had to get up about 7:15 in order to eat, get dressed, and get taped before everything started. The linebackers met with Coach Herring for about one and a half hours. We mainly reviewed and studied film of Mississippi St.

Practice started at 10:00, and we were dressed out in full pads for a full speed, intense practice. The players knew going into this practice that it would be physical and tough. Although football players like the physical nature of the game, practices are not all about fun and games. I treat football practices and meetings like a job, so when I get to Jervey for practices, it’s time to go to work.

The team worked hard for a couple of hours, doing one-on-one drills, tackling drills, and a little scrimmage. We also did some conditioning after practice. It’s easy sometimes to lose focus while doing all of these practices, but I try to remember that our rewards for all of this hard work are running down the Hill in front of 85,000 screaming, orange-clad fans and playing in big-time bowl games.

It felt good to have the first hard practice out of the way. After practice, I showered, talked to a couple of reporters, and headed back to the apartment for some nice rest. Later that night Altroy Bodrick (one of my fellow linebackers) and I rewarded ourselves with a nice, huge plate full of ribs over at Sardi’s restaurant in Clemson.

Tuesday, December 14:

Today was another workout day, but we worked our lower body instead of upper body. A lower body workout includes heavy squats, power cleans, a jammer machine for explosiveness, shrugs for the neck and shoulders, lower back exercises, and a bunch of abdominal work.

The rain finally ended today, so we were able to go outside and run. The running included numerous form running exercises for increasing speed and technique. After these speed drills, we ran our conditioning. Conditioning today was 12 110-yard accelerations, where we start at a slower speed and gradually reach full speed by the end. This condtioning was relatively lighter than yesterday, but full pad practices begin tommorow, so we will need that little extra energy.

We also had another walk-through session after workouts. During the walk-through we reviewed assignments and responsibilties in a more relaxed environment, but tommorow during practice the heat will once again be on and the intensity will escalate. Full pad practices require a lot of focus and energy from the players, and I need to get ready for that by trying to get a nice, long night of sleep.

Monday, December 13:

The team is starting to get excited about the whole bowl process. On Saturday, we had our first practice since the South Carolina game. A year ago at this time when I was a freshman, the whole team was getting ready to go home and sit around for three weeks. I am actually happy that we are all staying around as all the other students rush to get out of town.

Today was mainly a workout and running day. My workout group, the linebackers, started lifting at 10 a.m. For those who don’t know what a college football workout is like, it’s impossible to understand the intesity and workload of just one session. We went through the entire upperbody, including bench, dumbell bench, shoulder exercises, curls, triceps, more curls, back exercises, more shoulders, neck, and abs. Each of these exercises had about 4-5 sets, and what should have taken one and a half hours was all done in about 45 minutes. In the Clemson weightroom no more than a few seconds are allowed between exercises and sets, so our workouts actually resemble a sprint-through rather than a body building session. When a player first starts at Clemson, he actually has to get his lungs in shape for lifting weights.

After we finished with weight-lifting we went straight upstairs to Jervey gym for a little running work to keep us in shape. After about 45 straight minutes of agility drills in and out of ladders, through ropes, around cones, back and forth between lines, and over hurdles, Coach Batson let us get some water and head out.

The defense just walked straight up to the meeting rooms, and we all watched about 45 minutes of Mississippi State film. I’ve already seen two or three of the games on my own, and I try to study tendencies, formations, play calls, and anything else I can pick up. After watching film, we went back to Jervey Gym and walked through most of our plays and formations with Coach Hines.

After our walk-through was over I took a shower and got dressed for a few interviews. I talked to a couple of reporters and headed out at a resonable time of 2 p.m. The rest of the day I enjoyed another bonus of a bowl practice schedule-plenty of time to nap and do absolutely nothing