CLEMSON, S.C. – Bring Your Own Blanket.
That should be the newest catchphrase for homespun Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose lyrical maxims are the Southern version of fortune cookie wisdom. The folksy coach celebrated the school’s first national title in 35 years by moving his team into a palatial football facility that’s both the envy of college football and a grandiose shrine to its excesses.
The 142,500-square-foot expanse includes a nine-hole mini-golf course, turf Wiffle Ball field and every kind of pool imaginable. There’s a 30-yard cold tub, a lap pool, pool tables, pools with underwater treadmills and even an outdoor wading pool.
There’s also two regulation bowling lanes – complete with a bowling shoe rack of various sizes – a golf course simulator and a full outdoor basketball court under a canopy. (The hoops scouting report on Dabo The Gunner is that, well, he’s not exactly pass-first).
If the Knight Commission visited Clemson they’d need smelling salts and highball glasses to get through the trip. Clemson’s facility is a $55 million homage to extravagance, as impressive in recruiting circles as it is divisive in academic circles.
Amid the Tiger Paw carpet, second-floor slide and barber shop – credit cards accepted! – is one nuance that can’t be written off as a superfluous overindulgence. Clemson’s nap room is the single best asset of its new facility, a common-sense addition to DaboLand that even the fussy pants at the Knight Commission couldn’t twist their britches about. Clemson hails the Nap/Recovery room as “first of its kind” in an athletic facility, but the reality is that it’s long overdue.
A windowless room a curl route from the locker room has quickly merged into the daily routine of the Clemson players. Why? Ever go to a football training camp? There’s players curled up on couches, mattresses strewn in the hallways and laid out in locker rooms. Players wake up early and work themselves to exhaustion in the searing heat. It only makes sense that they’re rewarded with a quick nap. Swinney recalls occasionally going into the team room in Clemson’s old facility and turning on the lights. “Like a bunch of homeless people, they’d be laying all in between the chairs, on a slant,” Swinney said. “And they’re just trying to grab some sleep.”
I’ve been on some unique assignments in my career, from bodysurfing with a quarterback to working out with an NBA trainer to taking part in a football kicking camp. But even the late, great participatory journalism legend George Plimpton didn’t get to nap with the national champions.
When the Clemson players went to practice on a recent day during camp, Clemson officials gave Yahoo Sports exclusive napping privileges for the afternoon. I came prepared for the assignment, like any diligent reporter. I devoured an oversized rib eye at Halls Chophouse in Greenville, South Carolina, the night before and slept just five hours to arrive with appropriate drowsiness. I also labored through nine holes of mini-golf with two Clemson officials – assistant athletic director for communications Joe Galbraith and deputy athletic director Graham Neff. Beating them required exerting little energy, poor preparation for anyone looking to exhaust themselves with competition. (They played so haphazardly that it indicated they’d spent more time working than putting the past few months. Disappointing.)
Enter the nap room, and there’s four switches to control the amount of light. The temperature is set to 68 degrees for optimal comfort. An oversized fish tank bubbles at the far end of the room, providing a soothing soundtrack for some shuteye. “All you got to do is sit down and close your eyes, and you’re in a deep sleep,” Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant advised early in the day. “Once you wake up, it’s like I don’t even want to wake up because the sleep is so peaceful. It does wonders for you.”
The nap room is modest by Clemson’s new standards, about the size of two college dorm rooms. There’s six oversized and overstuffed white recliners in the room, and two sets of purple bunk beds with orange mattresses, purple ladders and decorated with orange tiger paws. Orange curtains can be draped across to block out the light. (Credit Dabo with a dedication to color scheme that borders on defiance, as even the mini-golf putters have orange handles and purple blades).
I initially settled into one of the overstuffed recliners, titled it back parallel to the ground and soon nodded off with my notebook on my chest. By the time I came to, a dab of drool accumulated on the crook of my mouth, a telltale sign of an effective doze. I climbed into the top bunk and attempted to doze off there, but didn’t find it as comfortable as the recliner. Gauging sleep is difficult for a participant, but my 20-minute snooze gave me a shot of energy for the day.
How’s the nap room gone over for the people designed to use it? The biggest complaints players have so far are lack of places within it to crash. Clemson receiver Ray-Ray McCloud says it’s not uncommon for the chairs and beds to be full, leaving players to curl up on the floor with a blanket. An organic spillover nap room has emerged in one of the upstairs theater rooms.
The only other issue is that there’s so many tours of Clemson’s resplendent new facility that interlopers haven’t wised up to the fact that light and noise pierce their slumber. (Note to Dabo: How about an orange “Do Not Disturb, Defending Champions Resting” door hanger?)
Swinney is old-school enough to coin the phrase Bring Your Own Guts, which has become a popular saying around the program. But he’s sufficiently sophisticated to take sleep seriously enough that he monitors both the amount and quality of a player’s sleep nightly – McCloud said he has a strip under his bed that allows the staff to monitor his sleep. Swinney pulls out his iPhone to show a report emailed to him at 9:19 that morning, saying his team rested to 88 percent of its goal for maximum rest. In team meetings, Swinney is known to call out players who don’t sleep enough. There’s no punishment, he says, just encouragement to maximize sleep. “The mental health of these athletes, the stress they’re under and the pressure they’re under is enormous,” he said, “and then you factor in they’re not sleeping, and it’s just toxic.”
Swinney points out that few folks in football programs harped on nutrition or had services available for mental health a decade ago. These days, nutrition and mental-health specialists are a staple in athletic departments. “I hope that’s what will happen,” Swinney said, “with sleep preparation.”
Clemson will be even more prepared next year, as Swinney said they’ve already budgeted for another set of bunk beds. No. 3 Clemson hosts No. 13 Auburn this weekend, the first marquee test for the defending champions. With the college football spotlight back on Clemson and its palatial new football facility, rest assured the Tigers will be well rested.