Dec. 17, 2010
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
The contest, and that word is used with tongue deeply in cheek (explanation later), was over now, but here came the chant. It began tentatively, and then built in volume, and finally spread wide enough that it could be heard throughout the 'Cats indoor practice facility. "Coach Fitz! Coach Fitz! Coach Fitz! Coach Fitz!" came that chant.
Their Friday practice for their Jan. 1 bowl date with Texas Tech had concluded long ago, but at its end the 'Cats had not quickly disbanded. They had instead gathered around a sight not often seen in their setting, a sight more often viewed along some carnival's midway or under a circus tent as the clowns clowned their way through their routine. They had, most surprisingly, gathered around a good old-fashioned dunk tank. "You've got to have fun in the bowl season," Pat Fitzgerald, their coach and the object of their chanting, would later explain.
"It's a long month and you've got to have some fun. So we try to do something a little different after each practice just to remember this is a good time. Because at the end of the day, spring practice, a lot of guys will be fighting for roles. Winter practice now, like this, getting ready for a bowl game, there're still guys that have their roles. The team'll change after this game. So have fun and enjoy it, especially the seniors. Today we discovered the dunk tank here and a rental company real close. We figured it would be a good time."
"We always stress having fun around here. If you're having fun at what you're doing, you're doing it well," echoed the defensive end Quentin Williams. "Sometimes it becomes a grind, especially in bowl practices. We get that kind of feeling in camp and spring ball and bowl practices. When we're preparing, it's taking us so long to get to the game or whatever's before us. So it becomes a grind, and these kinds of things, these kinds of events, only help us to keep that positive, fun-loving attitude."
This, of course, was a fun-loving event that was not entirely unplanned. Fitzgerald, in fact, had a meeting with the 10 members of the 'Cats Leadership Council and there some rules had been drawn up. Each of those members could pick a coach to go into the tank and five players from his team would each get a throw from 15 yards to dunk him. If they failed, if their chosen coach went undrenched, then a player would go into the tank and the coaches would have 10 throws from five yards to dunk him. ("They took that deal. Not a very good job by the Leadership Council today," Fitzgerald later said with a laugh).
"For your viewing pleasure, we're going to see if you can throw the ball," Fitzgerald said to begin the festivities, and here the superbacks' coach Bob Heffner clambered into the tank. He had been selected by the team captained by the injured quarterback Dan Persa and here, as he settled onto his precarious perch, Heffner cracked, "If Persa's going to throw, is he going to scramble up the middle and hit (the target) with his hands?"
Persa would not do that. He instead remained a mere observer and then, after Heffner went undrenched, his place on the perch was taken by the freshmen quarterback Trevor Siemian. He too remained dry through one, through two, through countless coaches' throws, remained dry until Fitzgerald himself picked up a ball and, offering left-handed, hit the magic button and sent Siemian in for a swim. "I played baseball since I was seven. I pitched a no-hitter in high school," he would later explain. "I had a pretty good idea I might be able to hit a couple."
Now Marty Long, the substantial defensive line coach, took his place on the perch, and here to throw came Quentin Williams, who also plays outfield and pitches some for the 'Cat baseball team. Long didn't have a chance, ker plunk, he sunk, and that was the case too for the linebacker Quentin Davie, who was done in by the offensive line coach Adam Cushing. These were all legitimate drownings, drownings done within the prescribed rules, but now some focus was lost and those rules were bent and a wee bit of anarchy crept into the proceedings.
Adonis Smith, the irrepressible freshman running back, he was the one who unleashed it, unleashed it by following up his errant throw by simply walking to the tank and punching the magic button and sending his position coach Matt MacPherson into the drink. That favor, of course, was returned not once, but twice, when Smith himself mounted the perch, and then here came the linebacker coach Randy Bates for his turn as a target.
He stripped to his shorts. He put on a purple bath cap. He put on a pair of dark swimming goggles. He even put a pair of inflatable floaters around his upper arms. He put all that on and struck a manly pose and climbed up to his perch and, alas, remained dry and was replaced by the linebacker Nate Williams, who didn't.
Nate Williams, under the rules, was the last scheduled contestant, but it was now, as he tried to shake himself dry, that the chant started tentatively and then built in volume and finally spread wide enough that it could be heard throughout the 'Cats indoor practice facility. "Coach Fitz! Coach Fitz! Coach Fitz! Coach Fitz!" came that chant.
Fitzgerald, for just a hiccup, hesitated, but then he removed his shoes and socks and slipped his watch off his wrist and unhesitatingly sat down on the perch. "I'm not afraid of a little challenge. So, yeah. It would have taken away a little bit if I said no. It was fun. It was fun," he would later say.
Then Quentin Williams, the outfielder and pitcher, picked up a ball. "We have a pretty flexible atmosphere around here, pretty open-minded," he later said. "Luckily, Fitz is the kind of guy who isn't going to get too upset that he's the guy up there and I'm the one throwing the ball. I'm sure he wishes it was the other way around. But it can't always be that way."
Now Williams, without hesitation, delivered, delivered both his pitch and his coach into the water. "I was surprised that I was able to zone in so well. I was expecting to hit one. But both of them? I was pretty happy with that," Williams later said.
"The Winning Edge is coming up soon. So, yeah. Payback'll come around. Absolutely. The payback'll come around. Absolutely," said Fitzgerald with a laugh.
"Not really. I think I'm safe," Williams hopefully said.
"I'm going to dry off," Fitzgerald finally said. "They said that water was warm. It wasn't. It was cold."
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