The nation’s top college football show and huge crowds will pack onto the Clemson University campus Saturday for the Tigers’ season opener against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Thousands of hours of planning have gone into this public spectacle and Clemson’s athletic department personnel have been at the center of all of it, conferring with other university departments, ESPN College GameDay producers, pro and college scouts and the national media.
“There’s been a lot of good people involved, from (athletic director) Dan Radakovich on down, to ensure people’s safety and let them enjoy the game, and a lot of departments, too,” said Sam Blackman, senior associate director for sports information.
Blackman has met almost daily with event coordinator Van Hilderbrand, Police Chief Johnson Link and other department staffers around the campus for the last several weeks. His boss, assistant athletic director/sports information director Tim Bourret, has dealt with the crush of requests from the state and national press, as well as pro and college scouts.
“I’m going up to the press box and figure out where to put everybody,” Bourret said Wednesday as he left his office.
One of the priorities over the last month has been preparing for ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast from Bowman Field. When producers settled on Clemson-Georgia earlier this summer for its kickoff broadcast, Blackman, Hilderbrand and others sprang to action, securing meeting spaces and the like for the 70-plus people ESPN shipped to campus this week.
“We bring almost everything with us,” said Lee Fitting, the senior coordination producer. “We just sort of require the space — the more space the better, obviously — we just sort of need their open arms and we handle the rest.”
Bowman Field has been a hive of activity since Wednesday and a raucous crowd is expected for the four-hour broadcast.
“If this isn’t the all-time best GameDay crowd, I’ll be disappointed,” Fitting said, “The buzz leading up to this game has been off the charts ... this is going to be insane with the Clemson faithful, school in session and the Georgia ‘Dawgs not too far down the road. It’s going to be unbelievable.”
GameDay analyst Lee Corso, an ESPN fixture since 1987, called the campus preparations “perfect. This place is nice ... Clemson people are wonderful to be with; most people in the South are and we are looking forward to coming back at some point.”
Bourret, Blackman and many others across campus have put in long hours to get ready for the game.
“We were here Sunday and Monday until 10 p.m. Tuesday was decent and we’ll be here until 10 p.m. again Wednesday and Thursday,” said Bourret, who has been with the university for 36 years. “By Friday, we should be getting things settled. We’ll have to be here by 8 a.m. Saturday and won’t get to leave until 1:30 a.m.”
Media calls aren’t all Bourret and Blackman have been fielding, either. There have also been a lot of phone calls from long-lost friends and family in search of tickets.
“I’ve got some calls from people I haven’t seen in several years,” Blackman said. “It’s always good to talk to people, but I’ve had to turn them down.”
“Me, too,” Bourret said with a chuckle.