While many Northwestern students spent their quarter break at their homes relaxing and enjoying their time away from studies, junior Kelsey Thompson -- a member of the Wildcats' field hockey team -- was one of 13 NU students who took a 10-day service trip to Nicaragua prior to Christmas through the University's Sheil Catholic Center. The following is a chronicle of Thompson's experience.
Since I have
been back in the States, many family and friends have kindly asked me, "How was
your trip to Nicaragua?" I don't know exactly how to put into words what I have
seen, though. Amazing? Powerful? Moving? Exciting? Heart-wrenching? There is
not one word--or even a page of them--that can truly describe what the 13
students from Northwestern's Sheil Catholic Center felt and experienced on our
10-day service trip.
into Managua, Nicaragua's capital, we took part in a "mobile food pack," in
which one station alone packed roughly 4,800 nutrient-rich meals (called
"MannaPacks") for Nicaraguan children in just a few hours. We then drove seven
hours on the winding dirt road to the northern mountains (during which we
questioned whether we had lost some luggage strapped to the top of our bus), and
finally arrived in the village of Cusmapa. The next morning we attended a
beautiful, yet simple mass in a Cusmapan home, which consisted of one stucco
room under a tin roof. We were struck by the fervor for faith, and the vibrant
spirit of love and joy of the people there--something we would experience
throughout the week here in Cusmapa.
mornings, our group walked to the Fabretto Center to paint the school
buildings. Fabretto, an organization that works to improve education,
nourishment, and sustainability for Nicaraguan children, has schools in a
handful of Nicaraguan cities, but has a large presence in this small town.
Initially, upon seeing the poverty that is the reality of this country, many of
us wondered what good we were doing by painting--something we could have done
back in Evanston. Painting a school, rather than building a school...it felt so
insignificant, so "not enough." But a week's worth of work later, we had all
realized we were playing a small role in a much bigger picture. We were
contributing to a school that not only educated underprivileged Nicaraguan
children, but also provided opportunities for a more sustainable life. The
Cusmapan children needed the maintenance of this school, not a new, big, or
discovered the importance of this school by getting to know the children who
attend it. Every afternoon, after painting, we had the privilege of playing
with the children--the Fabretto students currently on Christmas break--who ranged
from ages four to 14. By the end of the week, there was not one Northwestern
student whose heart was not stolen by these little rascals. We had checked
extra bags to bring donated art supplies and sports equipment--including field
hockey sticks and balls--to give to the school. On the first day I made friends
with a group of kids curious about the funny-looking wooden sticks I was
holding. Of course, no one in Cusmapa had heard of "hockey del campo" (field hockey),
so I taught them how to hold the stick correctly, and used my broken Spanish to
try to explain the bizarre rules of the game. We started out by passing the
ball in a circle, and by the next afternoon the kids had gradated to a boys
versus girls game of field hockey! They quickly took to the game, demonstrating
their understanding of the game when the boys called back a goal because the
girls had not properly restarted at the 50 after scoring.
to playing field hockey, the girls taught me some of their own games, including
their variants of tag and "duck duck goose." What struck me more than anything
was their simple desire to just be with me; all they wanted to do was hold my
hand. I quickly found that, unlike I had
previously thought, you can hold six or more hands at once (you only have
two hands, you say? psh...)--each of my arms around one girl's shoulders, plus
holding two hands with my right, and two with my left...plus anyone who just
grabs onto an arm! My girls, Dariella, Virginia, Marcia, Daniella, Cynthia, and
Dinlora, walked around with me wherever I went. When we weren't playing games,
we were walking around connected--physically--by friendship. All that these
children wanted was to love and be loved.
On arts and
crafts day we quickly learned that these students were not interested in
coloring or drawing pictures for themselves. Instead they all wrote my name--or
the name of another NU student--on the paper and gave it to us "so we would
always remember them." Even children I did not know would write my name (spelled
"Calsi" as they thought it sounded) on their pictures and give it to me simply
because I was sitting near them. And this Cusmapan spirit of giving did not
As we walked
into the Fabretto center on our last day in Cusmapa, we were nearly attacked by
the enthusiastic children. Cynthia ran up to me and shoved a black plastic bag
into my hands yelling, "Para ti! Para ti!" (For you! For you!). I opened the
bag and found three beautiful, juicy mandarins. I looked at her, wondering how
this malnourished child who truly has nothing, would give me her food so
willingly. I shook my head, and tried to give it back, but grinning ear to ear
she insisted that I take the gift. I could tell by her wide, excited eyes how
much she wanted me to have this, and was so happy just to give it to me.
was my buddy, Nidel. A curious little athlete, interested in this new game of
field hockey, Nidel befriended me on the first day. I quickly found out that he
was a natural at my beloved sport, and shared my love and joy of the game.
This, in conjunction with his constant sarcasm and joking, made us fast
friends. Every day thereafter, Nidel, came to paint with me in the mornings,
helping us get the job done, climbing on the windows to get the hard-to-reach
places. He made the work easy for me, as I was always laughing when he was
around. I taught him several variations of the fist bump, or "pound it"
handshake, all of which we would run through every time we saw each other.
Our last afternoon with the kids, Nidel kept
telling me that he had a Toy Story
coloring book for me, and later he would bring it by our house (Fabretto's
volunteer house). That evening I looked outside, hoping to see Nidel or the
book he was supposed to leave for me, but to no avail. The next morning we
packed up early and drove to the Fabretto Center to drop off the last load of
donated equipment. As we got off the bus, I saw a boy walking up the drive, and
I knew it was Nidel. As I knelt down to meet him, from under his sweatshirt he
pulled out the Toy Story coloring
book he had promised. I smiled and thanked him as we did our usual fist bumps
one last time. He asked me when I was coming back, to which I sadly told him I
hoped next year. He told me he had to go, so I hugged him and said goodbye. As we
walked away, I opened the book to find, "Friendship for always, Kelsey and
Nidel - friends," written in Spanish on the inside cover. Through tears, I
paged through the book, reminded of the joy and love the children gave to me
On the eve of a New Year and of the 2013 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Northwestern and its tremendous fan base enjoyed a busy day in Jacksonville.
* Monday morning presented the Wildcats with their first opportunity to step inside the site of their Gator Bowl competition and the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, EverBank Field. The north end zone in the 67,164-seat stadium already was filled with Northwestern purple, complete with the distinctive 'Northwestern stripe' featured in both Ryan Field end zones.
NU donned their home purple jerseys and filed into the stands for a team picture, an annual tradition at each bowl destination. In what might be considered a break from tradition, however, the 'Cats announced Monday that they will sport special matte black helmets when they take the field tomorrow, similar to those worn twice during the regular season but with a new twist:
* Following the quick trip to the stadium, most Wildcats returned to the hotel while seniors Brian Mulroe, Brian Arnfelt and David Nwabuisi joined head coach Pat Fitzgerald for the final Gator Bowl press conference. The quartet fielded questions from Chicago, Mississippi State and Jacksonville media, reflecting on their season, experiences this week and the significance of a potential win on New Year's Day.
* The last public item on the agenda for the squad was the Coaches Luncheon at Jacksonville's Prime Osborn Convention Center, a chance to bring together both teams and their supporters to celebrate their seasons and selections to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. Northwestern's standout left tackle and two-time first-team Capital One Academic All-American Patrick Ward was honored by the bowl as a Scholar-Athlete Award recipient, while former Gator Bowl participants and longtime contributors to the sport of football Don Orr (referee) and Corky Rogers (high school football coaching legend) were inducted into the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame.
As he has been known to do, Coach Fitzgerald fired up the crowd with his address to the group, giving special recognition to the wives of the Northwestern coaching staff for all they do to support the success of their husbands and the program at large.
* As temperatures climbed into the upper 60's under sunny Jacksonville skies, Northwestern fans took to the streets in droves to watch the Gator Bowl parade. The route began at EverBank Field and covered the nearly three miles to the popular Jacksonville Landing location. The Northwestern University Marching Band made its first appearance of the week and rallied the NU faithful.
Two days before its TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl showdown against Mississippi State, several members of the Northwestern football team and spirit squad made time to make a difference in the Jacksonville community.
Following a morning practice, the Wildcats and their counterparts from Starkville paid a visit to the Wolfson Children's Hospital in downtown Jacksonville to bring some excitement and holiday cheer to young people enduring a difficult time. It was obvious by the end of the 90-minute visit that both the 'Cats and the patients at Wolfson were greatly affected by their positive interactions.
Representing the Wildcats were: WR Drew Moulton, SB Evan Watkins, LB Roderick Goodlow, OL Shane Mertz, P/PK Matt Micucci and DL Ifeadi Odenigbo.
In each room, the Wildcats and spirit squad members managed to find a connection with the youngsters, chatting with them about their favorite sports and teams they root for, video games they play, foods they like to eat and other activities that make them smile. And of course, sometimes there is little need for conversation when a young person is taking in the presence of an imposing 6-foot-8 offensive lineman for the first time.
* New Year's Eve Day will be a busy one for the Wildcats and Northwestern fans alike, with a slew of items on the agenda from morning till night. To kick it off, the entire team will head to EverBank Field for the first time in order to snap a team photo in the venue, home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. After that, Pat Fitzgerald and his team captains meet the media for the final time before kickoff and then join the rest of the team at the Coaches Luncheon and Gator Bowl Hall of Fame induction.
The afternoon slate features a lengthy parade featuring marching bands and spirit squad members from both schools as well as a Northwestern-only pep rally at the Jacksonville Landing. While many in the city and around the world will be staying up late to ring in the New Year, the Wildcats will be enduring their usual "Friday" routine of meetings, movies and final pre-game preparations.
Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern teams have gained a reputation for putting on a good show in each of their postseason bowl game destinations and, after Thursday night in Jacksonville, that reputation may soon extend to the pre-game festivities as much as to what goes on between the white lines.
The Wildcats took advantage of the hospitality offered by Latitude 30, an entertainment complex in Jacksonville offering bowling, arcade games, food and, as the 'Cats found out, a karaoke stage. After a quick meal, the Wildcats grabbed the mike and didn't let go for the duration of their two-hour stay at the facility, offering impressive renditions of everything from Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" to Justin Timberlake's "Gone" to Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" and even some "Sexual Healing" as performed by running back Tyris Jones. After building a strong audience at Latitude 30 over the course of the 15-plus songs they performed, the 'Cats finished strong by showing off their dance moves to "Put a Ring On It" and "Gangnam Style" before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.
Check out the accompanying video and photo gallery (yes, visual evidence!) to get a taste of what the Wildcats brought to Jacksonville Thursday night.
Also, special shoutout to senior defensive lineman Bo Cisek, who went where no Northwestern student-athlete has gone before by live-tweeting the event from @NU_Sports, the official Twitter handle of the Northwestern Athletics department. Bo did a great job capturing the energy of the evening. If you enjoyed his witticisms, give him a follow on his personal account, @DaDoze55.
* Northwestern staged its second practice on site at Jacksonville University Friday, going full pads for the final time before next Tuesday's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against Mississippi State.
* In attendance Friday was former Northwestern men's tennis great and World No. 4-ranked, Todd Martin. A native of Hinsdale, Ill., Martin reached the finals of the 1994 Australian Open as well as the 1999 U.S. Open and now resides in Florida.
* Following practice, the entire Northwestern squad made the short trip to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, enjoying a beach picnic, volleyball and bags competitions, and a chance to rest under the sunny Florida skies. Temperatures today crept into the upper 60's -- a welcome setting considering the Northwestern campus in Evanston received its first significant snowfall of the winter over the last few days. Can't wait for all the Wildcats faithful to join the fun in sunny Jacksonville!
Our football team just wrapped up its first Bowl Week practice session down in Jacksonville and we have officially been on the ground in Gator Bowl country for more than 24 hours. So far the committee and our hosts have been tremendously welcoming and we've picked up a few bits of knowledge that we'd like to pass along to you in this blog!
If you don't follow us on Twitter (@NU_Sports), do so! Tonight, we will be turning over the handle to one of our student-athletes as the team visits Latitude 30, which features activities like bowling, billiards and arcade games. Should be a fun night for the team!
Northwestern Football's official travel party left Evanston early Wednesday morning, Dec. 26, to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., for the official start of Gator Bowl Week. In each of the days leading up to the New Year's Day Gator Bowl, we'll have blogs in this space updating you on all of the activities our team and staff are enjoying.
In addition, check out our new Gator Bowl Facebook Tab, now available on our page at Facebook.com/NorthwesternAthletics. In this tab, we will have an updated video from each day down in
Jacksonville as well as a regularly updated "Photo of the Day" and the ability to read
our most recent Gator Bowl blog entry. Keep up with the #B1GCats
conversation on Twitter from Facebook, as well, with an embedded
#B1GCats twitter feed.
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at Northwestern's 63-42 victory over Brown on Sunday to close out the Wildcats' nonconference portion of their schedule.
AN UPDATE: Senior guard Reggie Hearn, the 'Cats leading scorer who twisted his
ankle during their Friday night loss to Stanford, sat out their Sunday win over
Brown. "But I'm sure he'll be back. Friday, we'll be back for practice and they
seem to think he'll be OK," Bill Carmody said after that 21-point victory.
THEM RUST, NOT BROWN: The Bears were coming off exams and playing their first
game in 15 days. "That's not easy. You've got to acknowledge that," said
Carmody, but it certainly made the 'Cats task easier. They hit
five-or-their-first six three-point attempts as their opponents reoriented
themselves to competition, and led 15-0 with just over four minutes gone. From
here that lead would never be less than eight and would once swell to as much
STOPPER: Brown guard Matt Sullivan, a Loyola Academy grad, entered this affair
averaging 15.7 points-per-game, the best in the Ivy League. But at Welsh-Ryan
he could never escape 'Cat forward Jared Swopshire, who attended him as
ardently as a mom does her new-born babe. Sullivan, as a result, missed his
first six shots; got his only basket of the day on a back-door layup at 8:22 of
the second half; and then fouled out with just those two points a little over a
work here represented the work of the entire 'Cat defense, which held Brown to
just 30.6 percent shooting overall, to 28.6 percent shooting on its threes and
to 21.5 points below its season average. "I thought, overall, our defense was
pretty good," Carmody later said. "It seemed every 10 minutes they got 10
points. You win a lot of games if you do that."
TO BELIEVE: The 'Cat offense, this season, has occasionally sputtered and appeared
out-of-sorts. But Sunday, even without Hearn and (of course) Drew Crawford, it
often hummed, which is why it ended with 48.9 percent shooting overall, with
54.2 percent shooting on threes, and with 21 assists on 23 field goals. It
produced only one double-figure scorer, point Dave Sobolewski, who ended with
14. But, not insignificantly,Tre Demps
and Kale Abrahamson and Alex Marcotullio each finished with nine, and Swopshire
and Alex Olah each finished with eight. "I thought we ran through our stuff nicely
and our shots went in, our shots went in," Carmody said of his offense at one
point. "Usually that happens. Nobody was breaking plays, they were executing
like they do in practice. That was good to see."
another point, not insignificantly, he also said, "I think we actually learned
a lot tonight, I really do. If you execute--you've still got to make the shots
on offense--but if you execute, you're going to get the kind of looks we think
we can make."
LEARNED: Sobolewski missed all six of his field goal attempts last Friday
against Stanford and, on Sunday, he also missed the three he took in the first
half. He finally dropped a three from the right wing at 17:43 of the second
and, in that half, he would go five-of-six and collect all of his team-high
points. "Sobo, he's had a rough time," Carmody later said of his performance.
"I think I told him in one of the time outs, he's a bulldog, So-bo-lew-ski.
He's a hard guy, drops his shoulder, puts his elbow out on anybody. I told him
he has to be a little bit more like a French poodle, but not quite that.
Shooting off the bounce. If there's space, shoot it. You have to be a threat.
Just don't go in there and hope for the best. He hit some big shots out there
today. I think that's going to help his whole game."
know what he's saying," Sobolewski himself would say. "I don't always have to
be, like he said, a bulldog trying to get into the lane and finish with a foul
sometimes. Maybe it's a floater, maybe it's a pull-up, a little 10-to-15 foot
pull-up. I agree. If I could add that part into my game, I think that would be
a big help."
MUST LEARN: At one point in the second half the five 'Cats on the court were
the sophomore Sobolewski; the redshirt freshmen Demps and Mike Turner; and the
true freshmen Abrahamson and Sanjay Lumpkin. There was a reason for that. This
was the 'Cats final game before Big Ten play, and Carmody was looking to feed
his youngsters that experience they will need in the withering conference
battles to come. "Everyday you're teaching. Everyday you're teaching because
you've got new guys," Carmody said of working with a group that now has only
three players experienced in his system (Marcotullio, Sobolewski and Hearn).
everyday I'm on Kale's tail. 'You've got to do better. You've got to do
better.' You want them to play, all right? We have good freshmen, I think, very
talented young guys. We played the other night against Stanford and that kid
from Bishop Gorman, 6-8, Rosco (Allen), he was one of
the most-highly recruited guys in the country. But he's not quite there yet,
some nights you don't notice him. That's what happens with freshmen. It takes
time, all right. It takes time. But the more playing time they get in games, in
different kinds of games, the better they're going to be."
is more-and-more experience for them, which gets us better and better,"
Sobolewski would later add. "Everyday in practice, I think some of these
freshmen need to learn we get on them because they need to start picking it up.
They're doing a great job of it. But the more we tell them what they're doing
wrong, the more they'll learn. There's definitely still room for improvement.
At this time last year, I had a lot of room for improvement in terms of knowing
the offense. As coach said, we just have to get better with it, and all this
experience they're getting now is huge for us. We see it everyday. They're
starting to pick more things up and starting to make better reads on the court,
so I think they're coming along well."
just how far as he come, Abrahamson was now asked.
long way," he said with a smile. "You should have seen me the first day of
summer school. I was getting beat back door. I was messing up every second.
Pretty much the whole summer, I didn't really improve. But at this point it's
gotten a lot better and it's the same with everybody. I can see steps each
SO, IN THE END, THIS WAS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE: "It's
huge. It's huge to not only get the win, but to come out and play well," Sobolewski
would finally say when asked the significance of this win. "It was tough not
having Reggie out there. Regardless of the opponent, he wasn't ready to go. We
think, we're pretty sure we'll have him back for January. But it was great
coming out and playing well. As coach said, I think we learned a lot today. We
communicated the best we have all year on defense in terms of talking out
there, switching when we needed to switch, fighting over screens when we needed
to do that. So especially on the defensive end, we learned what it takes to
shut people down."
Despite a close loss to Stanford on Friday night, NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski writes that the Wildcats got some much-needed contributions from a pair of players off the bench.
Every team needs a performer like Tre Demps, who can create
a shot in a time of need. The modern game demands that now, as did the 'Cats
Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise that the ball found
its way to his hands as this one rushed toward its conclusion. The 'Cats were
now down two and less than 10 seconds remained and here he drove from the right
side into a thicket of bodies. "We were trying to penetrate, have a couple good
shooters in, Sobo (Dave Sobolewski) and Jared (Swopshire), to get in the lane a
little bit and then find (either Demps or Alex Marcotullio)," Bill Carmody
would later say. "But they handled that pretty well. Then Tre found an opening."
"I just tried to get in the lane and penetrate, maybe to
find somebody," explained Demps himself. "But I knew things were getting kind
of mixed up a little bit, and I knew the handoff was coming my way. I saw the
switch, and I knew I could get by (Cardinal defender) Dwight Powell."
Every team needs a performer like Alex Marcotullio, who can
provide leadership and that proverbial spark popping off the bench. The
unpredictable flow of games demands that now, as did the 'Cats Friday night
game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise what occurred when he entered
that fray at 7:23 of the first half and his team switched into its 1-3-1 zone.
He is the head of that defense, the one who plays up top, and in that role,
says he, "I'm just trying to take them out of their comfort zone. That's my job
at the top, to get the start of their offense off-balance and just to create a
little havoc out there."
Until this moment at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the only thing
off-balance in this game had been the 'Cats themselves. They had led it 2-0
just 23 seconds in, but then went down one 13 seconds later and now slowly,
inexorably, slipped into a hole deeper than space. There was little hop to
their step, there was little amp in their energy, and their offense was best
symbolized by what occurred on the plays just before and just after Marcotullio
entered here. First, far out on the court, Mike Turner shot a simple pass
toward Kale Abrahamson, but Abrahamson cut as the pass was made and the ball
ended up in the Cardinal bench. Then, less than a minute later, Turner sent a
back-door pass toward Sobolewski, but the point's way was blocked and he
aborted his cut and this ball too ended up out of bounds.
That helps explain why the 'Cats had scored just 14 points
in this game's first 14 minutes, helps explain why the 'Cats trailed by 18 with
under six minutes remaining in the first half. But here, at 5:25 of that half,
Marcotullio hit a three from the left side; the defense he headed began to
create the desired havoc; and suddenly, unexpectedly, they exploded into an
improbable run. "I don't know if our offense got that much better. I think it
did," Carmody would later say. "But we certainly got some steals and changed
the tempo of the game with our defense. I felt we were running our offense much
better. I felt we were settling in the first 10, 12 minutes, trying to do too
much too quickly, but after awhile we got some things that we actually work on
and they were effective."
"We started to come up with those loose balls and started to
score some easy buckets," said Marcotullio himself. "I think that helped our
offense flow a little better. We were getting from one thing to the next. We
were scoring inside, and now that we were scoring inside, we were getting looks
for the three."
Now, just a little over three minutes after his defense and
his three started this run, Marcotullio stripped Cardinal Chasson Randle and
finished a break with an old-fashioned three, with a layup and a foul shot.
Then, after a Cardinal miss, he fed Reggie Hearn and Hearn drove the left
baseline and kissed in a reverse layup, and now these were the facts. After
scoring just those 14 points in this game's first 14 minutes, the 'Cats had
scored 17 in just four. And after allowing Stanford to scorch them for 32
points in this game's first 14 minutes, they had shut them out in those four.
And after trailing by 18 at the end of this game's first 14 minutes, they had
closed that margin to just one.
A Cardinal three just before the buzzer would leave them
down four at the half. Still. Now, finally, the game was afoot.
Every team needs a performer like Tre Demps, who can create
a shot in a time of need. The modern game demands that now, as did the 'Cats
Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise that his presence
was felt when he reentered this fray with 11:20 remaining. "Tre has a knack for
getting in the lane and stuff," Carmody would say of him. "He really hasn't
played that much, you know, so he's just feeling his way around things. But
certainly in the last few games he's played he's done extremely well, and
helped us come back."
The 'Cats here were in need of help. Sobolewski, their
resilient point, was struggling with his shot, finally ending this affair with
just a single point after going 0-of-6 from the field. Swopshire, their
versatile forward, was scuffling to get shots, finally ending with six points
on only six of them even as he did so much else so well (seven rebounds, five
assists and a steal). Then there was Reggie Hearn, who had been a force in the
first half, scoring a team-high 14 points and collecting a team-high six
rebounds. Just under three minutes into this second half, on a drive to the
basket, he collided hard with Randle, came up limping, and exited the game for
good 90 seconds later.
Still, when Demps entered it four minutes after that exit,
the 'Cats were down only four, and here he threw them onto his shoulders. He
hit a short, running hook from the right side and then, after a free throw by
Alex Olah, a back door layup off a Swopshire pass. He aired his next two
floaters, but then dropped a three from the left side and a runner in the lane
to tie this one up at 61 at 6:34. Another three, this one at 1:50, tied it at
67, and when this game finally ended, these were the facts. In its last 11:20,
he went five-of-10 from the field and scored all of his dozen points, and the
rest of the 'Cats went two-of-six from the field and contributed seven points.
"I felt a little rhythm, a little pep in my step," he said later when asked
about this outburst. "But I wanted to keep the team in mind. It seemed we were
having trouble getting into the lane, and I just wanted to get in the lane and
make some plays."
Now, in the lane again and trying to make a play, Tre Demps
offered the shot that would push this game into overtime, and for a heartbeat
the ball posed there on the rim. "A very good shot," Carmody would call it, but
here it fell off the rim and toward a skying Swopshire. He seemed set to corral
it, but from behind it was knocked away and into Sobolewski, and then it
bounced out-of-bounds to the Cardinal and this one was over.
"Yeah, I thought it might bounce in," Tre Demps would soon
say. "I tried to give it a little touch. But it didn't fall."
Skip Myslenski chats with Kain Colter and Pat Fitzgerald following the team's final practice before dispersing for the holidays. The team will reconvene on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 25.
* Often, during this season, Pat Fitzgerald and any number of players have talked positively of this team's chemistry, of this team's cohesiveness, of this team's resilience and leadership. Quarterback Kain Colter would do that again Thursday when asked how this bowl experience, his third, differs from his first. "I think this team is a lot different, the dynamic of this team, all the athletes we have, how close we are, how everybody gets along," he said here. "Every year, we've been real close and I feel this year we have the most talented team we've had in a long time. So we're going to keep working on that, keep building on that, and hopefully we'll get this W."
Making comparisons to the past can be a sensitive matter. But when pressed to specify differences, he did say, "Those guys last year worked their butt off and they wanted it bad, just as bad as this team. But I think the difference between this year's team and last year's team is our confidence level. You look back at this season, we've dominated almost every game, and the games that we lost, we let it slip. So our confidence level is high, that's the biggest thing, so even when we're down, we know we can play better, we know we can play with any team that's on the field that Saturday and strap it up and play well. Like I said, it's our confidence. Guys last year, they wanted it too. But we had a rough season last year, and here we're building and our confidence is up and guys are eager to make plays."
He has long dreamt, he said often this season, of playing college football. But not until he viewed the 2006 Rose Bowl did 'Cat true freshman superback Dan Vitale appreciate the special nature of the postseason. That affair matched Texas and quarterback Vince Young against USC and running back Reggie Bush, and even now Vitale will say, "I remember that game perfectly and how it finished up. That's when I got into the whole bowl-season thing as a young kid."
And now that he is part of a bowl-bound team?
"It's a cool feeling, seeing that on TV and knowing that I'm there now and, as a true freshman, being able to go to a different state and play in a game like this. It's crazy, especially at this school where we haven't had a bowl win in a while. It's crazy knowing that we get that shot (to end the drought) and I get to be part of that."
For Dean Lowry, the true defensive end, the postseason epiphany came later, came as he watched the 'Cats do battle with Auburn in the 2010 Outback Bowl. "That's the one that stuck out for me," he remembers. "After that, I was really interested in Northwestern. (I liked) the way they played and the intensity they had, that never-give-up mentality. So that game definitely sticks out for me."