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    BLOG: Tales from a Saturday Morning Bowl Practice

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    * Eight days ago, on an unremarkable play in practice, fate flaunted its fickle finger and altered the future of a pair of 'Cats. The victim in the deal was senior defensive tackle Niko Mafuli, who broke his right leg that Friday morning. The benefactor, if you will, was junior Brian Arnfelt, who was suddenly thrust into the front-four rotation after suffering through a season mottled with injuries. "Just going through the same thing he is, someone telling you you won't be able to play, it's just so tough," he will say this Saturday. "You feel for anyone in that situation, especially after just going through it. Everyone's got to pick up the flag. But I can't imagine what Niko's going through, that feeling of being a senior and not being able to go out there. It's a bummer."

    * Arnfelt's own bummer of a year began in late May when, doing a simple running drill, he broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. "I originally thought I'd be back a lot sooner than I was. I was hoping to be back for (the regular-season opener at) Boston College," he remembers, but his recovery lingered on and he would not play again until the 'Cats' Oct. 8 meeting with Michigan. He would play the next three weeks as well, managing a pair of tackles in his brief appearances, but now he was suddenly shut down again. "Something," he says, "wasn't right in there. I was feeling an uncomfortable pain, so it was probably more precautionary than anything. It's been a long time. It's been a long year."

    Did he then think his year was over?

    "They told me it probably wasn't going to work for the regular season. So I had to hope we got (to a bowl game). Luckily, we have that opportunity to play again."

    * The old, quite old, commercials claimed that the Maytag repairman was the loneliest guy in town. But a defensible argument can be made claiming that guy is actually any injured athlete. "It's hard to explain in words," Arnfelt will say of his experience on the sideline. "One day you're out there, you're playing, you're out their with your friends, your buddies, then the next day you can't go out there. But things just didn't work out. Sometimes in life you've got to learn that things don't always work out as planned. So now I appreciate being on the field so much more. When you're not out there, you really learn to appreciate the experiences you have with your buddies."

    * But Arnfelt, to parrot a favorite phrase of 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald, didn't throw himself a pity party. "The approach I took with this whole thing is you've got to have a positive attitude, you've got to keep that positive attitude," he explains. "What you can do is, you can study film, you can be with the young guys and show them how to do it, show them the ropes. Since you can't go out on the field, you've got to do what you can do."

    And now?

    "You have to take the film study you've done and take it to the field. Obviously, there's going to be rust after not doing it for a while. But through experience and everything else, it comes together. That's what bowl practice is for. I shook some of the rust off the first couple of days and now, this last week, I've really been getting back into it. I'm good to go."

    * The 'Cats, of course, are preparing to play Texas A&M in the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, which is why we have been presenting a Houstonian Of The Day. Today's honoree is junior linebacker David Nwabuisi, who was once recruited to play running back for the Aggies. He was also cited by senior safety Brian Peters as the homey who brags the most about his town. "I don't bore anybody with stories about Houston," Nwabuisi will say when asked about that, and then he smiles. "I tell wonderful stories about Houston to people who want to hear them. All the guys from Houston, we got a lot of pride in our city. So, yeah, we talk about it a lot. It's kind of a joke, we joke around a lot about how they don't want to hear it. A lot of people do want to hear it, but they act like don't. They really love it, though."

    And how did he feel when he heard he'd be playing a bowl game there?

    "Very happy. It helped kill some of the sorrows from the season. It was great to hear that we were playing back in Houston, playing before my family, my friends, playing with my teammates in the city I came from that I've been telling them about, wishing they could come back with me. So it'll be a great experience going down there."

    Is he getting hassled for tickets?

    "I've already told my family just tell people to buy tickets because I can't get them for them. I have about 12, but that's not nearly enough. I'd need at least 50 or so. It's going to be crazy."

    And what's he going to tell all his family and friends come Christmas?

    He laughs. "I'm going to tell them to make sure they're there on the 31st cheering us on. I know A&M's an hour-and-a-half away. I've got a lot of friends that go to A&M. But make sure you're with us on this one."

    * There are five 'Cats in this season's Houston posse and each of them, says Fitzgerald, is "obviously excited. To have a chance to go home and play before family and friends is really special. The leap of faith those guys had to have to come up here to Big Ten country and things of that nature. We've had a great tradition and a great track record of young men coming up from Houston and being successful in our program and graduating, so I think they continue that, carry that torch now. But the key thing for them is to be focused when we go down there. We talked about it a year ago when we went down there to play Rice. Their focus can't be on going home. Their focus has to be on playing the best game of the year. I think they'll lock it in once we get going."

    Will he talk to them about that?

    "I did a year ago, and I'll probably say a few things. But I think sometimes you can get a little bit of paralysis by analysis and overemphasize something and now it becomes a distraction. We're going to be down there for five days. If we were just going in and out, I think it might be a problem. But being down there five days, it should be fine."

    * And finally: The exclamation point on Saturday's practice featured numerous 'Cat coaches going at each other in seven-on-seven drills, which were highlighted by the wig worn by defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and the leaping catch made by offensive line coach Adam Cushing. "We try to have fun at the end each bowl practice," said Fitzgerald, who did not play. ("I'm smarter than I look," he explained.) "We were thinking of some ideas, and I was on a jog the other day and had the epiphany that maybe we should have a staff seven-on-seven for a few plays. I think we came out injury free, which was kind of the priority."

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