It's perfectly normal to think Dabo Swinney's "championship" phase in November and December is the most important portion of a calendar year.
After all, that's when the big games are won or lost. It's typically when the division, conference and state title are on the line. Those are three of the staple goals in Swinney's successful football program.
Completing those goals and capturing those crowns have led to winning two national titles and making seven consecutive College Football Playoff appearances. So again, go ahead and make that the top priority.
But if you've followed Swinney's philosophies or understand just how college football truly works, then you know it ranks farther down the list of the head coach's "phases."
Swinney is a meticulous planner, and he lays out his entire calendar year based on what phase the Tigers are in. It helps keep both his coaching staff and his players focused and always working toward a goal.
In the end, the championship phase is simply a by-product of all the other stages. If Clemson is successful February-July, the expected results will occur. That's why this is grind time.
The "transformation" phase is what the Tigers entered following last Saturday's annual spring game. Most fans and media look to the long slog from now until Sept. 4, filling their minds with thoughts of the 2021 season, what Clemson will look like in the opener against Georgia and who will fill key roles.
The players, meanwhile, are beginning the most laborious portion of the year, when the coaches aren't allowed to work with them on the field. So exactly what will the Tigers be doing the next four months leading up to fall camp that's so important?
First off, remember that they didn't get this phase last year, at least not in its entirety, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, with everyone on campus, it begins with finishing strong in the classroom, where the end of the semester is upon them. Next, it's getting their bodies right. Hours and hours will be spent in the weight room. Supervised programs with strength training, cardio and nutrition will own these young men's lives.
Running stairs in the blazing heat at Memorial Stadium when no one is watching, getting in that extra workout when everybody else goes home and studying film without coaches' help is what defines this phase.
Who will spend extra time catching passes with QB D.J. Uiagalelei? Which young linebackers will ask to put extra work in with veteran James Skalski? Who will use 7-on-7 summer drills to perfect their craft against the stiff competition? Will Hunter Helms develop into a true No. 2 QB before the coaches get their hands back on him in August?
Most importantly, though, this is the time of the year when chemistry and leadership come together. The offensive line, which has some vast improvements to make from a year ago, needs to spend as many hours as possible together, jelling and becoming a single unit.
Uiagalelei needs hours upon hours of reps with his wideouts. It was clear how much time former QB Trevor Lawrence and former WR Amari Rodgers worked together in the offseason during the fall. They always seemed to know what the other was going to do, and they had a successful connection. Who is going to build that with Clemson's new starting signal-caller?
Clemson isn't short on leadership. There's Skalski, Nolan Turner, Lyn-J Dixon, Matt Bockhorst and several others who have been through all the battles and know what it takes to be a champion. They'll push the younger players, but they'll also help develop the next crop of leaders, which will be key next season and beyond.
See, you just thought the end of spring meant time off from football. However, the Tigers' hopes of winning a third national championship under Swinney don't begin in November. The process starts now.
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