Dawgs Make Their Way to Orlando

ATHENS – Some will be landing at the Orlando airport. Others will be hopping in their cars and making the long road trip from home.

Freshman Carlton Thomas has just 40 miles to travel – the shortest distance for any of the Georgia players from the fun and festivities of the holiday season to the serious business of winning their bowl game when practice begins tonight.

Of course, that doesn't mean there won't still be a few festivities. Bowl week is nothing like the few days of preparations and practice the Bulldogs go through leading up to a regular-season game.

"It's a little bit different just because of so many things going around," said left tackle Clint Boling, who plans to use the trip to visit with his grandparents, who live in Orlando. "But the bottom line is we're going to have to be ready to play football, and I think we'll be ready to do that."

For some members of the Bulldogs, the bowl trip is old hat. In fact, sixth-year senior Andrew Williams has plenty of experience with the Capital One Bowl as the only player on Georgia's roster who has been there before. He went as a true freshman when the Bulldogs beat Purdue in 2003.

For others, the trip is a new experience, one that is chock full of potential distractions.

Georgia will practice each day leading up to the game on Jan. 1, but following their hard work will be a half dozen events from theme park visits to a miniature golf outing with disadvantaged children from the area to a $400 shopping spree at Best Buy.

"My family gives me a hard time about how much stuff we get for the bowl trip, but I promise you, we earned it from January to January," Williams said.

After all, Orlando is the one place where everyone is supposed to act like a kid – and for many of Georgia's players, the trip represents their first chance to enjoy Disney and the other area attractions.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has relatives in the area and vaguely remembers a trip to one of the theme parks as a child, but the details escape him.

"That hasn't been a staple of vacation time for the Staffords," he said. "I'm going to go out there and ride some rides and hopefully get Mickey Mouse's autograph. I'm excited."

Of course, it's that shopping spree that caught most of the players' eyes. The per diem money they receive on the road only goes so far, so perusing the isles of an electronics store for some big-ticket items was enough to send a few players out scouting their potential targets in advance.

"I was just scouting out what I might want to get," said Williams, who braved the pre-Christmas rush of shoppers to get a head start. "A little flat-screen TV caught my eye, so I might have to grab that."

The trip also offers the players their first chance of the season to enjoy practice without the burden of schoolwork and studying – freeing up a bit of time for the fun side of bowl week.

The excitement of the trip, however, is tempered a bit by the task at hand. Michigan State will have a few of the same distractions, but once the teams hit the field, it's all business.

"It's up to you to stay focused, and I'm going to take it upon me to keep my guys focused and don't get caught up in this is a vacation or a fun trip," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "It's all about business. You can go down there and have fun, but when we're at practice, it's important to stay focused and maintain on what you have to do."

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