On Saturday, the Michigan football team will run out onto the field at the Big House, just as it does every home game. For its opponent, though, the moment they enter the stadium will be the culmination of a much, much longer journey that begins in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Hawaii made the long trek to Ann Arbor this week to take on the Wolverines for the fourth time in program history, most recently playing in 2016. This will also be the Rainbow Warriors’ first game played in the eastern time zone since 2018, when they faced Army in West Point, NY.
The team took an eight-and-a-half-hour flight from Honolulu on Wednesday, departing around 2 p.m. Hawaii time, but not touching down until the sun had already risen Thursday morning in Michigan. Upon arrival, players stared down a six-hour time difference, with a game looming in less than 72 hours.
It’s a unique and difficult job to prepare a team for a football game after that much travel. Kody Cooke, Hawaii’s Head Strength and Conditioning coach, is the man tasked to handle it.
“The biggest thing that we’re going to do is try to stay on Hawaii time as much as possible,” Cooke told The Daily. “Mainly because throughout the year, we travel to the mainland basically every other week. So, we don’t want to have to flip time zones every single week.”
Attention to detail is key for making the trip go smoothly, and staying on Hawaii time is just one part of Cooke’s plan. On the plane, he emphasized staying hydrated, planned out four different mealtimes and encouraged players to move around and remain active. Upon landing, he immediately led the team in an activation session, targeting the hip flexors, lower back and other muscles that may have tightened up during the flight.
He then laid out the most arduous task for the Rainbow Warriors — trying to sleep during the daytime.
“I know that’s tough because you deal with the sunlight and there’s obviously a circadian rhythm portion of that as well,” Cooke said. “The biggest thing is when we try to get them to sleep, we’ll tell them to turn the blue light off on their phone and just try to help in any little way possible.”
In his second year with the program, this will be the longest trip Hawaii’s taken under his tutelage, but he’s used to ambitious travel conditions. Playing in the Mountain West conference, the Rainbow Warriors faced the added challenge of elevation differences against teams like Wyoming and Nevada and had to do so in Mountain Time — a four-hour difference.
Last year, Cooke utilized the plan to stay on Hawaii time during away games, but it was much more loosely outfitted. This season, he’s enforcing a stricter eating and sleeping schedule and believes it will put his players in the best position to be fresh for the game.
Luckily for Hawaii, the game won’t kick off until 8 p.m ET, which will feel like an early afternoon contest for the Rainbow Warriors. It’s a lot easier to stomach than traditional noon games, which equate to 6 a.m. starts on their body clocks.
“We’re kind of fortunate on that,” Cooke said about the game time. “And that’s why I feel really, really comfortable about trying to stay on Hawaii time as much as possible.”
As the only Division I team not on the U.S. mainland, the Rainbow Warriors face a distinct set of challenges playing away games. Cooke was conscious of these circumstances prior to taking the job, but after serving as an assistant trainer at Arizona State, Tulsa and Virginia Tech, it was a chance he didn’t want to pass up.
“I was definitely aware of it; I knew that there would be some challenges here,” Cooke said. “But this was an opportunity to come out here and lead a program, which is something I really wanted to do.”
Cooke, though, doesn’t get that sense. And when Hawaii does finally make it to the Big House Saturday night, there’s only one emotion he’s anticipating:
“(There’s) excitement for sure. There’s no question.”