It is time to discuss the worst part of the year for a college football player…if you aren’t bowl eligible. Unfortunately Wake did not make it to a bowl game this season and therefore the Demon Deacon players are currently experiencing the awful feeling of being home for the holidays. I have been on both sides of this fence and I will give you a little insight into both.
The holiday season is a great time to see your family, maybe visit your girlfriend’s family or even go on vacation. All great ideas if you aren’t a college football player. Christmas break at home is a bad deal, I mean a very bad deal!
When I arrived at Wake Forest we were riding a high, bowl games had become the norm and my first bowl game was the 2007 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, NC. I remember all of the players being a little bummed because it was a big step down from the Orange Bowl the season before; I didn’t go to the Orange Bowl, so I was amped up! The only negative I could think of during that bowl trip was the fact we arrived in Charlotte on Christmas day. That meant we had to spend Christmas away from our families…bummer. We did, however, get to go home for a few days before Christmas so my family celebrated Christmas early, just for me.
Waking up in your dorm room bunk bed as an 18-year-old kid on Christmas morning was certainly depressing, but we were there for a business trip. I remember eating SpaghettiO’s in my room right before catching the team bus to Charlotte and thinking man this sucks. I was way wrong!
The next year our team played in the Inaugural Eagle Bank Bowl in Washington, DC. Lucky for us the bowl game was played on December 21st and we were able to go home for Christmas with a bowl win under our belts. That was a great Christmas…the next two weren’t so enjoyable.
Bowl preparation is a lot like fall camp; you live at the facility. Two-a-days are expected and meetings came three times each day. The cafeteria became the scene for a silent film after the first week. The practices were not fun at all, but the coaches loved it because it gave them a chance to further evaluate the young guys. As a player I could never understand their thinking, but I understand it now.
In 2009, Wake Forest finished 5-7, losing five games by a total of 13 points. It was a heartbreaking season. For the first time in three years the football office was closing up early and the players were going home for the entire Christmas break. To make matters worse, I had broken my hand in the last game of the season and had to have surgery. So here I was going home for five weeks of freedom and I couldn’t even lift weights; I ended up losing about 20 pounds during that break.
As a football player you wake up a lot of times and dread going to weights or practice, but when it is taken away from you, it becomes the thing you miss the most. That Winter break was only enjoyable for about a week. After that I became restless, I did not want to watch the bowl games, I couldn’t lift, and soon I longed to be around my teammates again.
Watching other teams play their bowl games is what set me over the edge. I felt helpless knowing we should have been competing in a bowl game.
Unfortunately the next season was even worse. We finished the season 3-9 and headed home again, but this time things had changed. That first year we went home it seemed like maybe our team was ready for a short break, but after finishing 3-9 we went home pissed off. My class officially became the seniors after our last game and we met with each other before we went home and decided that being home for Christmas sucked! Shortly afterward we met with the team and told them the attitude needed to change.
Everyone left that meeting hungry, ready to capitalize on the five weeks off and come back bigger and stronger than ever. We did just that. My senior year we made it back to a bowl game and it was such a thrill.
You see, a bowl game isn’t just a football game, it is also a vacation for the players and coaches. Teams arrive at the bowl site at least four days before the game so they can enjoy the city. We were able to have a great time in Nashville, Tennessee for the Music City Bowl.
The bowl game hosted dinners for us, ran shuttles into the city so we could explore, and best of all gave us bowl gifts! Free Christmas presents from people you don’t even know, now that is a treat!
Please keep in mind that I am writing this from the perspective of a student-athlete. I am now a retired athlete and I have the ability to enjoy my Christmas with my family and friends and it really is a blessing, but as a college football player your perspective has to be different if you want to win games.
Looking back at my career I would have eaten SpaghettiO’s every Christmas for my five seasons at Wake if it meant we were going to a bowl game. Those were five of the best years of my life and probably the only five years I will ever miss family Christmas. That’s a pretty favorable trade-off to me!
I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year!