One Last Family Trip

Penn State punter Blake Gillikin (left), head coach James Franklin, and linebacker Jan Johnson visited Children’s Health Texas leading up to their 2019 Goodyear Cotton Bowl matchup with Memphis. Photo by Melissa Macatee, CBAA

The smiles tell you everything you need to know.

When the team travels during the regular season, there’s no time to see the local sights. You arrive, you play the game, and you get home. That’s the job.

Bowl games are different. The team arrives early, with numerous events scheduled for them in the community. For this year, the Outback Bowl’s website lists events at Busch Gardens and Clearwater Beach, and the 2019 Cotton Bowl trip featured a trip to a local hospital. In addition to the two photos embedded within this story, you can see a full gallery on the bowl’s website. Based on the good vibes in the photos, it’s time well spent for everyone involved.

With the College Football Playoff (seemingly) overnight changing what it means to play in the postseason, it’s easy to forget that playing in a New Year’s Day bowl in Florida would usually automatically qualify as a successful season and a nice year-end destination for all the offseason and winter workouts.

There’s a lot happening leading up to the game, with the local community looking forward to the contest every year, no matter which teams are playing. For some or many, this will be their first up close experience with Penn State, and like most other aspects of the football program, the coaches frame this as an opportunity more than an obligation.

“I think it’s very valuable,” Anthony Poindexter said of the off-field events scheduled. Poindexter will serve as the team’s defensive coordinator and call plays in the Outback Bowl, with new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz onsite and observing. “These kids worked all year starting way back when the season ended last year really, preparing for the season. We’re going to win the game, that’s the main goal. But it’s also a little reward for the kids to be able to go down to Florida, be as one, be like a family there, and spend our last days as a team together.”

Poindexter continued: “Be out in the community and show how we’ve been blessed with the opportunities we have. Maybe we can give back and give some light to somebody’s life that doesn’t have as much light or needs a pick-me-up while we’re there. I think it’d just be awesome.”

Linebacker Cam Brown shared a gift with a patient at Children’s Health Texas. Photo by Melissa Macatee, CBAA

Let’s not get confused. As Poindexter mentioned, everyone — myself, fans, the players and coaches — acknowledges the game itself is the main priority. More specifically, winning the game. Winter in Happy Valley is more smooth following a bowl victory.

That doesn’t mean Penn State can’t have the best of both worlds. Meet new people, expand your network, and then go out and win the game on the field. When you say it like that, the metrics for a positive bowl trip mirror those of the college experience.

“I think that’s critical, that’s part of the bowl process really is to enjoy everything about the bowl, establishment some relationships — these guys get to meet certain people — and be able to market themselves and network,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “I think that’s all part of it. And giving back to the community, honestly, it’s a great opportunity for these guys to take advantage of that.”

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