Dukes stay in Woodstock to avoid distractions before home games

HARRISONBURG — This afternoon after their classes are finished for the day, James Madison University players will board buses and head to the Hampton Inn & Suites in Woodstock.

The Dukes have a home game with Elon on Saturday and the team will stay overnight at the Woodstock hotel to get ready for the game. It’s a routine they have done all season.

“It’s what we had done at The Citadel,” first-year JMU head coach Mike Houston said after practice Tuesday. “It’s what a lot of the top programs in the country at the FCS level does. I think virtually everybody at the FBS level does it.”

Houston said they have team meetings on Friday after they get to the hotel, and they eat together. The players have a curfew, and then the next morning they will eat breakfast together and have a team meeting before leaving to go back to Harrisonburg.

Once they arrive back in Harrisonburg they go to JMU’s Student Success Center and have a pre-game meal together and then move on to Bridgeforth Stadium to get ready to play.

Houston said the main idea behind it is for the players to get into the same routine for both home and away games.

“They have the same routine even when we travel, other than just the distance we travel, the routine’s the same,” Houston said. “Same roommates, same wake-up schedule on Saturday morning. They get up, eat breakfast, meetings and walk through, eat pre-game meal, we go play. It’s a consistent routine.”

Houston said it also takes away all the distractions the players can have if they stay in their dorms or apartments on a Friday night before the game.

“Friday night on college campus, Friday night in a college town, I don’t have any control over that environment,” Houston said. “I don’t know how much rest our guys are getting. I don’t know whose around them, what time they’re going to sleep. I hope that they make it on time for meetings on Saturday morning, but I don’t know what they’re doing really.

“I trust my guys but still there’s a lot of temptations out there. Doing this I know exactly what time they go to bed. I know where they are. I know what time they get up. I know that they get a good night’s rest in a secure environment.”

JMU redshirt senior offensive lineman Mitchell Kirsch said he’s been through plenty of different routines in his five years at the school. He’s had three different head coaches, who have done things a little differently.

He said that with former JMU coach Mickey Matthews the team usually watched a movie together on Friday nights at a theatre and then had pizza afterward before going their separate ways.

He said that under former coach Everett Withers they would usually play games and hang out in the Student Success Center until about 9 p.m. and then go home.

Kirsch said he likes the way they do things now with Houston.

“It’s nice to get away from the students, get away from all the parties and the nightlife,” Kirsch said. “I remember last year, I used to live in Charleston (Townes off-campus housing in Harrisonburg). There would always be parties and it got pretty loud at times. I’d have to worry about some of my roommates that didn’t play football, because they’d be out and up and doing whatever they were doing.”

JMU junior tight end and Strasburg graduate Jonathan Kloosterman said it’s not only good to get away from distractions but also good for him to be even closer to home.

“It’s been really nice and just being able to come back to a place near home,” Kloosterman said. “It’s just nice. Not too many people know about Woodstock on our team. For them to be able to experience where I’m from and everything — it’s nice.”

Houston said he looked at hotels throughout the area. He said he wanted to stay in Harrisonburg, but only the Hampton Inn in Woodstock was willing to guarantee the team rooms for every home game.

“The hotel, the Hampton up there, has been great,” Houston said. “They’ve taken care of us. We got the same location, the same room, the same everything every Friday night.”

Houston said the university was very receptive to the idea when he brought it up, but they told him they couldn’t use any state funds so he’d have to raise the money himself.

“I just reached out to some of our football alumni that are very supportive of the program, and they were willing to fund the project,” Houston said. “I told them why we wanted to do it, and they believed in it so they took care of it.”

JMU Assistant Athletic Director  for Communications Kevin Warner said the cost for the hotel is $4,000 per weekend, plus $2,250 for bus transportation for a total of $6,250. The Dukes have six home games in the regular season so the total will be $37,500. JMU will do the same thing for any home playoff games as well, so the total will rise during the playoffs.

The Dukes are 9-1 on the season. Houston said staying in a routine has not only helped the team with home games but also road games. JMU has had big road wins over New Hampshire, Richmond and Villanova.

“It allows you to have a controlled environment,” Houston said. “It allows us to have a consistent schedule routine every week throughout the year. To me it’s been a game changer.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com