Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. That was the lifestyle that Benjamin Franklin endorsed.
East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery is a believer in the value of early starts, too. The Pirates have started practicing in the morning and it’s not just to avoid being rained out by afternoon showers.
“That’s just one of the advantages,” Montgomery said. “Knock on wood, we’ve been fortunate. By this time of the year before we would have missed at least one practice. . . . Outside of leaving last week, we’ve been able to get them all in to this point.”
ECU left the region as Hurricane Florence approached and prepared in Orlando for last Saturday night’s matchup at South Florida. The Pirates (1-2) host Old Dominion (1-3) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
The new morning routine includes an emphasis on nutrition and makes sure the players are wide awake for classes.
“Another good point is that we’re the first ones to get to see our kids in the morning,” Montgomery said. “We start the day. It’s also a lot easier to be on a high from practice and go to class — being all awake and ready to go.
“They have to get in the bed now to get the proper sleep because they know they have to get up in the morning. The nutrition part and the weights (lifting program) that is connected to it, we’ve done a really good job there of maintaining our weight. In a lot of cases, we’re even going up in weight because we’re feeding them and we’re controlling their breakfast meal, which is a very, very important meal.
“The other part of it is when they leave us, we’re usually completely done by 10:15, that’s showered and out of the door. The rest of the day, outside of a lifting schedule that we have, is all about the academic part of it. They get a healthy dose of academics all in one chunk of the day. We’re able to get them in study hall before it becomes seven o’clock or eight o’clock at night. We’ve got a good time of day to get them to study hall. Before, they were waking up early, trying to get to morning classes, then coming to practice. … Then after practice, having to go to dinner. After dinner, having to go to study hall. I didn’t like the fact that we were having to give them 7:30 to 9:30 for study hall after practice. I felt like they would have their best ability to study up to eight o’clock at night.
“We’ve adjusted all of those things and it’s worked out really well so far.”
Fewer missed practices for academics
When the sun rises on the Ward Sports Medicine Building adjacent to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, many players are already inside getting ready for sessions at the Cliff Moore practice facility.
“Most of our guys are usually in the building by 6 a.m.,” Montgomery said. “They don’t have to be there at that time, but they like to come in and get about an hour of treatment and different things before practice.
“We’re usually on the field by eight o’clock or so. We have meetings immediately following treatment up until about eight o’clock, 8:05. Then we’re usually off the field right around 10 o’clock. So really a two-hour practice is pretty normal. Then they’re out of here, showered about 10:15, 10:20. If they want to be at an 11 a.m. class, they can be at an 11 a.m. class. Then the rest of the day for class.
“That was another thing. We use to lose three or four guys a day for class because they had class schedules that didn’t line up all the time and they have to graduate — especially their junior and senior year. Now, we very rarely miss people if we ever miss anyone for class now. It’s been very helpful for that as well.”
Players used to have required labs in the afternoon that forced them to be out of practice.
“We had a lot of that,” Montgomery said. “Some guys would miss Tuesdays, some guys would miss Wednesdays, which are very critical days in being able to practice.”
That situation has changed.
“The most we would have, we might have a guy leave 15 minutes early to get to a class,” Montgomery said. “Outside of that, we’ve been very fortunate.”
Early class in pads
Eight o’clock class for the Pirates is Football 101.
“A lot of the scheduling comes through our academic department,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lot of classes and we have so many students here so there are a lot of classes. The labs are a little harder to lock in. Sometimes it’s hard to fit classes that are mandatory for graduation in certain majors. They’re hard to fit in at different times of the day. Some of those classes are at three o’clock and four o’clock. They have to be at those classes. At this point, we’ve been very fortunate. We’ll have to see how spring goes, but it’s just been a good schedule for us at this point in time.”
Duke set precedent
Montgomery became aware of the benefits of morning practice when he was on the staff at Duke, his alma mater.
“This is the only schedule I’ve practiced on outside of being here,” Montgomery said. “There are a lot of teams that are morning-practice teams across the country. It’s been going on a really, really long time. I know it’s been going on since (2005) when it started at Duke. Other places have been going probably even longer than that. It’s been very effective. It was effective for us at Duke. The academic part of it was really, really effective. We’d see growth in our kids, feeding them breakfast, getting them up. The physical part of it was growth as well. It’s just been really good for us.”
Having the players on hand at the start of the day allows the staff to ensure that they are well fed.
“We have a continental breakfast before (practice),” Montgomery said. “They’re able to get (protein) bars and cereal and oatmeal to get something on their stomach before practice, not too heavy of a meal.
“After practice they have their heavy meal. It’s basically a snack and then a heavy meal. With our new players’ lounge and the kitchen that we have in there, our food is delivered there and we have a portion of our administrative staff that serves them immediately following our practice.
“We also make them shakes immediately following practice. Sometimes protein balls and all those things are there for them immediately following practice. We just hand it to them. It’s like a conveyor belt. They come through, they get them and they keep moving. … Mostly, they like sandwiches so we try to get bacon, egg. The bigger portion of meals are sandwiches, wraps and different things like that because they want to be able to eat on the move.
“We’re just happy to feed them and be able to give them the nutrition that they need. Mostly, the shakes are real fruit shakes so not a whole lot of just orange juice and heavily-laden sugar stuff because we drink enough sugar with the Powerade that they’re always on so it’s more smoothies and those type of things following practice.”
Academic performance is enhanced as well in the new regimen.
“The benefits of it are not only to maximize the way they play on Saturday, but to maximize basically their performance every day and not just on the football field, the energy to be able maintain a high level of focus throughout the day directly come from the nutrition and the food that we put into our body,” Montgomery said. “The water, the hydration part of it, the way that we take care of our body makes them feel better of course and we get a better product on the football field. They’re a better product all day long.
“The real benefit comes when you become able to stack these years together — when you have two years of nutrition, three years of nutrition and now that senior is not only operating at the highest level he could be operating at on the football field but now his whole day is so productive. He’s had three years of productive days, whether they be on the football field, in the weight room, in the classroom. That’s when you really start to see some true gains.
“We’ve seen the gains already in games. We’re healthier, knock on wood. You see other teams leaving the field with cramps and different things. We’re just not doing that. We’re not a team that’s leaving the field right now. We have a lot more people to play now (due to new redshirt rules), but this is just the building blocks of putting together a program from A to Z. The nutrition is a good portion of that A to Z.”
Ready day or night
Physical activity early in the day and enhanced nutrition give the Pirates improved focus throughout the day and into the evening.
“What it gives our guys an ability to do is we can play at 3:30 (p.m.), we can play at noon, we can play at eight o’clock,” Montgomery said. “It’s the bounce-back effect really. . . . The late games are the adjustment of the bounce back. We’re ready to go when we wake up in the morning. We have a full day and we’re ready to go for the majority of the day because of the way that we live and the way that we’re able to take care of them in our training room situation. It has some huge dividends, playing early or late, it’s always a good thing.”
Routine has changed for coaches, too
The new practice schedule has meant adjustments in the routine of the coaching staff as well.
“For over 10 years, I’ve kind of been doing it one way,” Montgomery said. “This is kind of set more like an NFL schedule. . . . Our Mondays are big boy Mondays. We have to come in really, really early on Monday morning and we work all the way through the late night to get ready for a Tuesday morning practice. That’s the hard part. Once we get to Tuesday, when we’ve got the biggest part of the intstall done, everything put together, . . . it becomes a lot better for coaches. They’re actually able to go see their kids at 7, 7:30 (p.m.) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were missing our kids because we weren’t coming in until 7 a.m. the year before, but then you have to work after practice. You’re going to watch practice (film). There’s no way you’re going anywhere without watching practice. You’re coming back in, grading practice, watching practice, putting all that to bed. Now we’re doing that (mid-day). . . . Then we’re going right into planning for the next morning. Instead of having a Monday that’s a little bit shorter for coaches, we have a longer Monday — but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is a much better schedule for the coaches. We come in really early, but we can work from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s like working back in the day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.”
Up with the sun, the Pirates will be looking to have secured their second win when the sun sets Saturday.