* But on the flip side. Senior Brian Arnfelt, whose appearances this season have been limited by his own injuries, took reps Tuesday in Mafuli's spot and will be available to play against the Aggies. "Getting Brian back will help," Fitzgerald said of that reality.
* Another who will also see time in Mafuli's stead is sophomore Will Hampton, who spelled him in the 'Cats' front-four rotation during the season. Hampton, by the by, is from Houston, the site of the Car Care Bowl.
* In other news from the M*A*S*H front: Senior corner Jeravin Matthews sat out much of Tuesday's practice. But, said Fitzgerald, "He's good to go. Good to go." And redshirt freshman safety Ibraheim Campbell watched that same practice in sweats. But again, said Fitzgerald, "He'll be good to go, probably go this weekend. If not, he'll definitely go game week. He'll be fine."
* Turns out senior corner Jordan Mabin tore both his pectoral muscle and his labrum when he was injured early in the 'Cats' regular-season finale against Michigan State. "Both have been repaired" with surgery, said Fitzgerald, but Mabin, obviously, will be a spectator on New Year's Eve.
* True sophomore wide receiver Tony Jones, a burner with big play potential, is back practicing after missing the entire season with an undisclosed injury. But he will not play against the Aggies since it was decided earlier to redshirt him this year.
* Back to the redshirt freshman Campbell, whose year has been nothing less than a vertiginous voyage. He won one of the starting safety spots in camp, but on the very first play of his very first game, he filled the wrong gap and Boston College's Andre Williams romped for 69 yards. "It wasn't like practice," he remembers, thinking back on that moment with a chuckle. But on the second snap of his career, when the Eagles encored with the same play, he threw Williams for a one-yard loss. "I don't really get mad. I get more excited for the next play. It's an opportunity to fix what happened, basically," he says while explaining his mindset after his opening error. "I'm not the type of guy that lets things bother me, lets things get into my head good or bad. But that's a good example of not worrying about the past, and playing each play in itself."
He needed that mindset as his season unfolded in a manner that mirrored those opening two plays. Here he was steady and sometimes spectacular, then he was committing a costly, rookie error. Here he was starting and learning on the job, then he was stripped of that role and watching from the bench. "It was the same. I knew I had messed up and I was just waiting for another opportunity to fix what happened," he will say of his demotion, but in truth he was doing more than just waiting. He was working as well, working especially with senior safety Brian Peters. "He helped me just watching film so that I would get more out of it, basically, just making better use of my time in the film room and in the weight room," he remembers of that period. "It wasn't that I wasn't putting in the time. It's just that I wasn't sure of what exactly to do to prepare for games. He helped me as far as those things go. . . and I knew when the opportunity came, I had to make the most of it. I think I did that for the most part."
That, in fact, is just what he did, and after reclaiming his starting spot before the Indiana game, he closed out his season this way: as the 'Cats third-leading tackler against the Hoosiers; as their leading tackler the next two weeks against Nebraska and Rice; as their third-leading tackler against Minnesota and as their second-leading tackler against Michigan State. That about-face alone was an impressive testament to his tenacity, and then earlier this week came more when he received Freshman All-American honors from both Yahoo! Sports and CollegeFootballNews.com. "It feels good, yeah," Ibraheim Camplbell will say of those accolades in his characteristically phlegmatic manner.
He stops then and considers if he wants to say more. He doesn't. He just smiles and closes with, "Yeah. That's about it."
* Had to check in with Venric Mark, the kick returner and human blur who will be going home to Houston to face the Aggies. "I was hoping we'd get this bowl," he will say. "Houston, that's my hometown. I've lived in Houston basically all my life. I have a lot of friends and family back home, a lot of people that impacted my life in a big way. My high school's around that area too. So it'll be great to go back home to play in front of my friends and my family.". . . He has already gobbled up 18 tickets for the game. But, he says, "I've been asking for more.". . . At his high school, St. Pius X, he starred not only in football, but in track as well. In fact, at the state meet as a senior, he won gold medals in the 100, 200, long jump, triple jump and the 4x110 relay. . .His middle name is Emeka-Wococha, the family name of his Nigerian father. "It's supposed to be my last name," he will explain. "But when my dad came, he went to boarding school in England, that's also where my mom went and they met, so he switched his name around and Mark became his last name. Then when he married my mom, I guess they just adopted that name. But in Nigeria it's a very honorable tradition to keep that last name. So I kept it as a middle name."
* Emeka-Wococha, to conclude, means "God's mighty warrior."