Citadel football team endures challenging week

Joe Avento • Updated Sep 14, 2017 at 6:42 PM

Nothing was normal this week for The Citadel’s football team as it prepared for its game against East Tennessee State.

For the second year in a row, a hurricane wreaked havoc on the two-time defending Southern Conference champions’ schedule.

It all started last weekend when the team’s game against Presbyterian was moved from Charleston, South Carolina, to Clinton as Hurricane Irma barreled toward the United States. The Bulldogs had no trouble posting a 48-7 victory, but moving the game was just the beginning of a whirlwind week of schedule changes for the team.

Afterward, the players were bused to Johnson City and worked out at Science Hill High School’s Kermit Tipton Stadium, the site of ETSU’s home games the past two seasons, on Sunday.

“We were in Johnson City for a day,” Citadel coach Brent Thompson said. “We didn’t know if we were going to have to stay for a week.”

Instead, the team began the trek home as Irma tracked up the west coast of Florida.

Even though the eye of the storm was hundreds of miles away from Charleston, its storm surge caused widespread flooding in the city. The team stopped in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, on Monday and planned to practice at North Greenville University. When rain came, the team’s plans were up in the air.

“We didn’t think we were going to get to practice outside,” Thompson said.

After a call to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, the Bulldogs practiced in Clemson’s indoor facility for two hours and returned to Charleston on Tuesday.

“We’re very, very grateful for that,” Thompson said of Swinney’s help. “We’re very appreciative of the fact he was gracious enough to give us his facility.”

Interestingly, The Citadel (2-0) is scheduled to play at Clemson on Nov. 18. 

Wednesday was the Bulldogs’ first “normal” practice of the week. They play at ETSU on Saturday at 1 p.m.

“We’ll try to stay as basic as possible,” Thompson said, “and make sure it’s closely related to what we’ve done. It affects your game plan a little bit, but we’ll try to add couple things just to keep them off balance.”

Irma wasn’t the first hurricane to mess with Thompson’s schedule in his first two years at the helm. Last year, Hurricane Matthew forced the Bulldogs to move a home game to North Greenville and displaced the team for a couple of days.

“We knew how to approach it,” Thompson said. “We knew where we were going to stay. That helped us more than anything.”

Despite acting more as a juggler and travel agent than a football coach for much of the week, Thompson has had a chance to scout this week’s opponent. His team beat ETSU 45-10 last year in Charleston, but he expects a tougher fight this time around.

Thompson said he talked to James Madison coach Mike Houston to get a little inside information on the ETSU team, which comes into the game 1-1. James Madison defeated the Bucs 52-10 last week to retain its No. 1 ranking in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Houston was The Citadel’s head coach before leaving for JMU.

“They’re playing with older guys now,” said Thompson, whose team comes into Saturday’s game ranked 13th in the FCS polls. “They’ve been through a year in the SoCon. I talked to Coach Houston and he said they were a good, fundamental football team, exceptionally good on defense. He said they were a good team.”

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