JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Overcast skies and a damp cold greeted the Florida State football team as it unloaded for Sunday's, 18-period Gator Bowl practice in full gear at Jacksonville University.
"It's cold out here!" said sophomore receiver Bert Reed, huddling among teammates in an attempt to stay warm before practice began. "It's an important day for us as far as getting everything together. We've been practicing for a couple of weeks now so everything should be pretty sharp. With it being cold out here right now, we just have to focus on tuning everything up and tightening things up.
"As far as the game, we still have a long way to go in terms of our game plan and what we're going to be doing. Right now, we're just getting what we're going to be doing down pat and what we're going to be seeing in the game."
Reed's comments didn't stray from the message FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has been driving home every days as the Seminoles prepare to take on West Virginia in the 65th Gator Bowl. Fisher, who is a stickler for details, does not want the players to get caught up in the hype of playing in head coach Bobby Bowden's final game.
"That is our job as coaches to remind them - remind them why they are here," said Fisher, Bowden's successor. "That is the first thing we did when we got here. We pulled them together and had a meeting. I told them, 'You are here for a football game. Remember that. We are going to have a good time, we are going to enjoy ourselves, but remember you are here for a football game. Conduct yourself with class, don't get into a bad situation and when its time to work and prepare, prepare and when it's time to have fun, have fun, but remember you are here for a football game, that's what got you here.'"
It's a message the 'Noles have seemingly embraced, despite the cold that has settled over North Florida and will likely stay right up until Friday's kickoff.
"You really don't expect it to be this cold in Jacksonville but I guess Tallahassee has crazy weather, too," said senior free safety Jamie Robinson. "We just have to come out here and continuously focus and keep in mind what we want to do in the bowl game. We want to get a win. It's Coach Bowden and Coach Andrews' last game and my last game as a senior and we really want to focus on getting that win."
Bowl is a blessing for youngsters like Jenkins
The past 12 months have flown by for freshman defensive end Brandon Jenkins, who this time last year was preparing to enroll at FSU in January fresh out of Tallahassee Florida High.
Jenkins grabbed the attention of the coaching staff with a productive spring practice, which he used as a springboard to get into the rotation among ends throughout the season. The back-up to junior Markus White at right end, Jenkins saw action in 11 of 12 games this season. He finished the regular season with 10 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage and also tied for the team lead with three quarterback hurries.
With starter left end Kevin McNeil no longer with the Seminoles, Jenkins is getting additional repetitions at both end positions and should play a more prominent role against the Mountaineers. Naturally, he's trying to make the most of the additional practice time to position himself for both the immediate and long-term future.
"The intensity has really stepped up," Jenkins said before Sunday's practice. "I treat every practice like it's my last, which it is for my freshman year. I've just been working hard, trying to turn the page and get as good as I can."
Jenkins doesn't know if he'll get the starting nod in McNeil's absence, but he does know his performance on the practice field will have something to do with that decision.
"That's for the coach to decide," Jenkins said about the possibility of starting the Gator Bowl against West Virginia. "I just have to practice hard and show them I deserve to start."
Between the morning practices, he plans to enjoy his first bowl trip with his teammates.
"We had a little free time (Saturday night), so went to the (Jacksonville) Landing, chilled, ate - just had fun," said Jenkins, who along with his FSU teammates braved the cold Sunday afternoon during a trip to Adventure Landing amusement park.
The Seminoles will return to the practice field Monday morning at Jacksonville University.
Selected quotes from FSU players and coaches from Sunday's practice
Sophomore wide receiver Bert Reed:
"Our attitude is that we're ready to play. We've got to win; a loss is out of the question. I haven't even thought about losing this game because it's unacceptable right now because for what Coach Bowden has done for this program, it would only be right for us to let them go out that way."
"They're a good team and this may be cliché, but you've just got to want it more and when you want it more, you do a lot of things extra. We want to do it for him (Bowden), for ourselves and for our program. It's going to be big, not only a big game for him (Bowden) but for us to catapult us into next year and take us where we want to go."
Senior free safety Jamie Robinson:
"The team's attitude is pretty good. We all know what's at stake and we have in mind about Coach Bowden and we really want to send him out on a high note. So the attitude is focused on getting a win and we'll do whatever we can to try to get it. It's an honor to play in a game like this. It's very special and some day I can tell my grandkids about. This will be remembered forever."
On Saturday night's welcome dinner:
"It was a good welcome. The food was real good and the comedian was real good. The act he brought with the improv and getting the players involved was real nice. It was a real good welcome."
Senior defensive tackle Budd Thacker
On day two of practice in Jacksonville:
"It's not much different than being in Tally (Tallahassee). It's a little chilly today but things are going pretty good. We are adjusting to the new scenery and coming out here and having fun with the guys and just enjoying the bowl game."
On playing West Virginia and what we can expect from the Mountaineers:
"We have been watching film and they have one heck of an 'O-line' which I am really looking forward to playing against. It's going to be a challenge. They are a great team, but we just have to go out there and do what we are supposed to do and play well."
Sophomore running back Jermaine Thomas
On returning to his hometown of Jacksonville to play in the bowl game:
"It feels good being back in my hometown. We will have a lot of the crowd behind me and its Coach Bowden's last game and to send him out with a win would be great."
Head Coach Bobby Bowden
On the realization of the Gator Bowl being his last game:
"I have already realized it. I have already cleaned my office out; I won't be going up there any more. I will be doing everything from my home. Yes, I have already realized it. I'm glad I'm not 40. I will have to find something to get into; I just don't want to sit still."
On returning to Jacksonville to play West Virginia in the Gator Bowl:
"It's kind of interesting because I get to see people I haven't seen in a long time. I lived with them for 10 years. My children call West Virginia home, my home is Alabama, theirs is West Virginia, so I get to see people I haven't seen in a while. It is amazing how many people were there that have since passed away in 34 years. I will get to see some, but it's a pretty interesting way to end your career - coaching a school you have been at for 34 years against a team you were at for 10 years. It's pretty interesting."
On defeating West Virginia in the 1982 Gator Bowl and Coach Bowden saying he was glad he won but had no joy in beating West Virginia:
"That is true. You played against West Virginia, you coached there. In my next to last year there, they wanted me to leave but I didn't agree. They were ready for me to go and I probably should have been fired, we were 4-7. But the President and Athletics Director stood by me and said we don't care what they say you are our coach. So I stayed. When I left, people probably thought I was really mad at West Virginia, but I wasn't. So when we won that game, I think people expected me to say that I got even. But no, that wasn't my feeling. This time around, I would get joy out of winning. I don't care who it is over there. It is no fun in losing, no matter who you play."
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