April 16, 2019 Atlanta - Georgia Tech football players participate in a drill at Georgia Tech's football outdoor practice field on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Why Geoff Collins moved Georgia Tech’s practices to the morning

Georgia Tech football players have wake-up calls as early as 5 a.m., when campus is still cloaked in darkness and quiet. 

Players begin arriving at the football complex as early as 5:30 a.m. for treatment, followed by breakfast, team and position meetings and then practice beginning at 8:30.

“It took about a week to get used to it, as anything,” center Scott Morgan said. “You’ve just got to adjust to it.”

Among the many changes instituted by coach Geoff Collins, his practice schedule is among the most obvious and broad.

Possibly for the first time in the team’s history (not counting preseason or weekend practices), Tech has practiced in the morning this spring with Collins. 

The change has been received well by Yellow Jackets players, including Morgan.

“Honestly, I’m the kind of person that likes to get stuff done early instead of having to linger on it all day,” he said. “It’s nice to just get up and be productive.”

“I’d rather wake up, grind out a practice and then go to class than have to work in class and then you come out to practice slugging it,” safety Kaleb Oliver said. “It’s just easier this way. You can wake up, feel fresh out of bed.”

“I like it,” offensive tackle Jack DeFoor said. “I have to get to bed early, but it’s like, get it over with and then have class after.”

Offensive lineman Kenny Cooper said he prefers practice early rather than having his energy drained by his classes during the day before practice begins.

“It actually feels better doing (morning practices),” he said.

While it’s an atypically early hour for college students and drowsiness might be expected, coaches and players have spoken constantly this spring about the energy level in meetings and practice, perhaps an agent in kickstarting players.

“Just every day in the meetings, weight room, when we’re out here (at practice), he’s just out yelling,” cornerback Zamari Walton said of cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich. “He gets on us, too, so that’s really a good thing. He’s critiquing us, so that can be very good, but he has a lot of energy, so it helps us.”

Collins’ primary motivation to go early is to clear the decks for players’ academic responsibilities. After breakfast, meetings this spring have begun at 7:07 a.m. and, after practice, players are out the door in time to get to noon classes. (Collins said he bumped up the meeting time to 7:07 to ensure that practice would wrap up in time for those noon classes.)

“It’s just great,” Collins said after the team’s second spring practice, March 28. “We go ahead and get in, we get to work and they’ve got the rest of the day to do academics, to do study hall, those kind of things. It’s been a really good schedule.”

With former coach Paul Johnson, meetings began around 2 p.m. with practice at 3:45. After practice, players were typically finished with dinner and out the door by about 7. (It bears mention that the team achieved consistently on the academic side with his afternoon practice schedule.)

Collins has been a believer in morning practices since his two years at Central Florida (2008-09) with former Tech coach George O’Leary. He described it as “awesome” and “a huge positive for everyone in the organization,” among other things.

“The GPAs were really good and the level of effort and all those things were really positive,” Collins said.

Collins said that he knew then that he would adopt it as his protocol if he became a head coach. Temple already had a morning practice regimen when he took the job there two years ago, so he kept it in place and then brought it with him to Tech.

Collins credited the Tech academic support staff for making the changes necessary to make the morning spring practices possible.

Tech has ample company in hitting the field in the morning. At least nine other ACC teams practice in the morning and some have done so for several years and a 10th practices in the morning in the spring. (Defending national champion Clemson is one of the few remaining afternoon holdovers.)

Duke has been a morning-practice team since Tech great Ted Roof was there as head coach from 2003-07. Roof made the decision to facilitate class scheduling, but also because of studies indicating that alertness was higher in the morning, among other factors.

Offensive-line coach Brent Key noted a scheduling benefit that might be particularly helpful at Tech. For team members majoring in the sciences or engineering, having open afternoons enables them to take afternoon lab classes. Key said he thought that even when he was playing at Tech from 1997-2000, when the team practiced in the afternoon. It’s possible that the change could make a wider range of majors more feasible for team members, which, Key was quick to note, could help recruiting.

“That opens up the realms of majors that those guys can get into, that those guys can actually accomplish while playing football,” he said.

For the season, Collins said that the team will practice in the mornings Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are still up in the air.

Tech will conclude spring practice Friday with its spring game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The game will still be played at night, with a 7:29 p.m. kickoff. Every good idea has its limits.

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