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CLEMSON TIGERS
With a new leader and a great work ethic, Clemson’s football team is poised to become King of the Jungle
By Kim Goss
Published: Fall 2000

One of the reasons high school football players want to attend a major university is to get a great education--at least, that’s the primary reason they give to their parents. Another important factor is that bigger schools generally enjoy great fan support and have football programs committed to winning. When there are the inevitable lags in their team’s win-loss record, these programs will take the positive steps necessary to get back into bowl games and return to the top of the national rankings. Clemson University has just such a commitment to excellence, and it’s why two years ago the university decided to hire Tommy Bowden as its head coach.
After the 1998 season, Bowden, son of Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, inherited a football program that was taxing the support of even the most diehard alumni. Although the Clemson Tigers had earned the title of National Champions in 1981, the spark had fizzled and Bowden found himself trying to turn around a program that had not won an Atlantic Coast Conference title for almost a decade. What’s more, they had sunk to the level where the team only produced three wins in 1998, placing them eighth in the conference. Obviously, this is not the level of performance you’d expect from a prestigious university such as Clemson, and not the type of tradition that would attract elite high school football players who could make a difference on the gridiron.
Knowing he had his work cut out for him, Bowden brought his exciting “no huddle” running style of football to Clemson and became deeply involved in every aspect of the game, especially the off-season conditioning program. Says Head Strength Coach Joey Batson, “I have to account to Coach Bowden for everything I do in an annual planner that tracks our progress from August to July. This report ends up being about 140 pages and, believe it or not, Coach Bowden is going to read every word of it and give it back to me with notes.” Such attention to detail has paid immediate dividends.
In Bowden’s first year, the Tigers ambushed their prey to place second in the ACC and earn a trip to the Peach Bowl against Mississippi State. What’s also impressive about their amazing comeback is they did it with one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Clemson opened the season against Marshall (which ended the season undefeated, but only edged Clemson by three points), and then had to face the two teams that eventually competed for the National Championship, Virginia Tech and Florida State.
Batson says his Tigers were in peak condition for all these battles, had good game plans and played well, but they were simply not yet up to that level of football--even though Florida State also only edged them by three points. “These teams have some strong, fast athletic kids and we were outmatched in some areas. We’ve got a ways to go, and that will come with continued hard training and recruiting.”
This year Clemson has a favorable schedule that doesn’t pit the team against Marshall or Virginia Tech, and includes seven home games. But Batson says the Tigers are not taking any team lightly. “We just go one game at a time, and that starts with the Citadel. We have some good players here, we’re in great shape and we’ll be a physical team, but we’re not to the level where we can just show up on Saturday and beat people.”
Even more important than their schedule, this year’s den of Tigers is loaded with experience, having 16 returning starters, equally divided between offense and defense, and 53 returning lettermen. Quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, who started in five games last year, was ranked 31st in the nation in passing efficiency and ran for 588 yards, second best on the team. With this type of manpower, you can see why most of the pre-season polls have Clemson ranked in the top 25. But the Tigers are hungry and are striving to regain their former respect as a football powerhouse.
“Coach Bowden is really pushing hard to get the things that he feels can build a national championship program, and he supports our strength program 100 percent,” says Batson. “He wants us to feel a “sense of urgency” in everything we do; he tells us, ‘We can’t wait until tomorrow--we have to do it today!,’ and ‘if you don’t feel it, then Clemson ain’t the place for you.’”

Not Just a Paper Tiger

If you get the sense that being a strength coach at Clemson is a demanding job, you’re right. But Coach Batson is up to the challenge and has exceeded even Coach Bowden’s demanding expectations.
A native of Georgia, Batson says he caught the lifting bug when he started pumping iron in a basement gym with his cousin. “We had a high school coach who gave us a strength program. Although we didn’t quite know what we were doing, we enjoyed lifting.” As his love for lifting eventually evolved into a desire to be a strength coach, after college, Batson accepted graduate-assistant jobs to perfect his skills. He took on greater responsibilities at smaller schools, and four years ago became the head strength coach at Clemson.
Batson says one of the biggest influences in his training philosophy has been Louie Simmons, arguably the most accomplished powerlifting coach in the world. “Several years ago I spent some time visiting Louie and I still talk to him about every two months--Louie has been a great help to me,” says Batson. “His gym is pretty barbaric--there’s not much there--but it just shows you that you can take some barbells and dumbbells, a glute-ham bench and a power rack and get just about as strong as anybody.”
The Clemson strength program is well staffed with four full-time coaches, three graduate assistants, two student assistants and one volunteer. With that level of help, Batson is able to group his athletes under separate coaches, which allows for greater individuality. But Clemson’s commitment to football doesn’t stop with quality coaches.
Batson says Bowden is pushing hard to get a 10,000-square-foot weightroom completed as soon as possible, one that will cater primarily to football. “We’ve got a brand new football complex in the works,” says Batson. “When you add that accomplishment to our indoor-turf field, it’s a program that you know is only going to get better.”
Although Batson has made it to the top of his profession, he is realistic when encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. “If you really want to get involved in this profession, you need to sit down with someone who is established in the field and let them tell it to you straight. It’s a long, hard road, and I think a lot of guys get into it and don’t realize the amount of time they have to put in,” says Batson, who often finds himself working 14-hour days. “It’s pretty brutal--you have to have a love for it. That’s for sure.”
The advice Batson gives prospective college football players in regard to their strength program depends upon the high school and the strength program they are coming from. “Some guys come in cleaning and squatting with very good technique, and you always have pretty good bench pressers. What I generally see that needs the most work is overall conditioning, and we often have to elevate their work capacity so they can handle the amount of work they do on the field.”

Training Grrrrrrrreat
Tigers!

Batson is convinced that conditioning was a significant factor in why the team finished strong last year. “We’re always going to be a well-conditioned team,” says Batson. “In Coach Bowden’s philosophy, number one is conditioning, number two is speed, and number three is strength. This is not to diminish the importance of strength, because strength and speed go together, but Coach Bowden will never sacrifice one or the other for conditioning. This means we have to run our players extremely hard in the summer and do a lot of volume. We have a fast-paced offense, so we need to condition with repeated bouts of intense training with short rest intervals.”
A strength coach loves numbers, and Batson has some impressive ones to share. At the end of the winter program the Tigers had 26 players bench pressing over 400 pounds, 36 players cleaning over 300, 30 players squatting over 500 and 10 players over 600. How does this compare to the rest of the conference? “I think a lot of the numbers are similar,” says Batson. “What I’ve found throughout the years is you’ve got to have leadership on your team--that’s more important than the numbers.”
To help keep his team motivated, Batson developed a goal system based on their core lifts, which include the squat, bench press, power jerk and cleans. It starts with a “White” category, then proceeds in the following order: Orange, Tiger, Iron Tiger, Super Iron Tiger, “and then there’s a level we call ‘Mansters,” a category inspired by football great Randy White, which recognizes athletes whose accomplishments in the weightroom make them appear to be half man and half monster.
Although Batson says it’s always tough to single out any one athlete for his accomplishments in the weightroom, he says two who immediately come to mind are junior free safety Robert Carswell and senior wide receiver Rod Gardner.
“Robert was a highly recruited kid out of high school; Nebraska was after him and several other schools in the South.” Although he was already bench pressing 330 when he came to Clemson, by the end of the winter program this year he pushed that mark to 402, in addition to adding 75 pounds to his clean for a 325 max, 5 inches to his vertical jump, and dropping his forty time from 4.68 to 4.53. He also added 14 pounds of muscle. Batson says Carswell, who was ranked in the top 20 in the nation last year in interceptions, leads by example, is very focused, and has such a large frame that he’s had to hold Carswell back at times in the weightroom so he doesn’t get too big for his position. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, for the past two years Carswell earned the “ACC Top Six Award,” which recognizes six student-athletes from each ACC institution for significant volunteer work in their community.
Speaking of All-American candidate Rod Gardner, Batson says, “When Rob came here his bench was around 300, squat 315, clean 250, vertical 31, and his forty was 4.72 at 212 pounds. His bodyweight hasn’t changed much, but his bodyfat sure has dropped.” As for his conditioning profile, Batson says that Gardner’s great work ethic has enabled him to add over 100 pounds to both his bench and squat. He also now cleans 302 from the floor and 357 from the hang, vertical jumps 36 and has a 4:56 forty. Off the field Carswell participates in a program called “Success Away from the Game,” an organization that provides volunteer service activities for the local community.
As with many top strength training programs for football, Batson believes that it’s important not to lose the edge by falling into a “maintenance” program of light weights. “We work hard in-season” says Batson. “The intensity is still there--it’s just that we have a shorter period of time to train. We do, however, watch our players in practice and adjust the program as needed to make sure they’re not leg-weary and run-down.”
Although they’re not the kings of the football jungle just yet, Batson says the outlook appears outstanding for the Tigers. “There’s a sense of excitement now that hasn’t been here in a while.” With Bowden whipping the Tigers into shape with a strong conditioning program, Clemson’s winning football history is destined to repeat itself.

CLEMSON TIGERS
Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden, son of the Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden, was hired in 1998 to lead the Tigers.
Rod Gardner doing the BFS Dot Drill.
All-American Candidate, Rod Gardner will be one of the Nations top receivers.
Tiger wide receiver and All-American Candidate Rod Gardner has a 4.4 forty.
Rod Gardner with great form on the Power Clean
Keith Adams was the first soph. in team history to earn first-team All-American.
Robert Carswell Tiger All-American Candidate with Coach Joey Batson spotting.
Robert needs only 13 tackles to become the Tiger’s leading tackler for a defensive back.
Sporting News Ranked Robert Carswell as the Nation’s #1 Pre-Season Free Safety.

Return to Fall 2000 Articles


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