Defensive end Bradley Chubb knew that NC State would be playing in a bowl game after the Wolfpack defeated rival North Carolina to close the regular season, but he wasn't sure where. He had to wait over a week before finding out that NC State had accepted an invitational to play in the 2016 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
"I actually went straight to my computer and just typed in Shreveport to see what was there," Chubb said, laughing. "I mean it's not like the most exciting city but we're all grateful for another opportunity to play another game. The city might not be as fun as you want it to be but that just limits the distractions and everybody hopefully just gets down there and handles business.
"I can not be in [Chubb's hometown] Marietta, Georgia for a month so I'm going to try to be in Shreveport for a week. There's nothing wrong with [Marietta], it's just I'm 20 years old and... I like to be at home to see my family, but I just can't be at home all the time, I'd rather be playing football."
For the third year in a row, Chubb will be playing football over the Holidays, so he'll spend the majority of his time with his teammates.
"My freshman year, we were in St. Petersburg, so we had Christmas as a team," he said. "We got our bowl gear on Christmas day so it was fun. Last year we actually got to go home for the day of Christmas and had to come back later that night. But this year we're going to be in Shreveport for Christmas.
"It's good to be around your second family. You definitely want to see your family though on Christmas Day, but we play the day after so we're going to see them the 27th. At first it was a little weird not being with my family for Christmas, I've been there my whole life, but I've kind of got used to it now. Like Thanksgiving.. I'm always up here for Thanksgiving now so it's just one of those things that you gotta roll with."
The challenge for Chubb and the Wolfpack defense will be defeating Vanderbilt, a program from the SEC, considered arguably the top conference in the country. Chubb is familiar with the league, as he grew up in Georgia and his father, Aaron Chubb, played for the Bulldogs. However, the league isn't a concern for Chubb... just the opponent.
"Football is football," he said. "No matter what conference we're in. They're on scholarship, we're on scholarship. We just come out here to play.
"It is definitely a game because both teams are from different conferences and... I don't really see the difference, football is football. We strap up the same way, we all are on scholarship, they're all on scholarship. It's just another opportunity to go out there and play. We can't worry about the SEC, can't worry about three letters... just gotta play football."
Vanderbilt is a team that's similar to NC State in a lot of ways.
"They were 4-6 and they won the last two to become bowl eligible," said Chubb. "We had to win our last one to become bowl eligible. We definitely are similar in that aspect but, we're definitely bowl hungry... hungry for this bowl win. We want to finish the season off with a winning record instead of going 6-7. Both teams have a lot to fight for and hopefully we'll see what happens on December 26. It'll be fun."
What has Chubb seen from Vanderbilt on tape?
"I've seen good players," he said. "It was the last two games they put up 45 points against Tennessee. They're a really good football team that can score. They're a physical run team, they like to run the ball. They have some very good players. The quarterback is very good, the running back, and it's going to be a physical game up front and we're all just excited for it."
It's actually a game that matches strength vs. strength for the Wolfpack defense. The Commodores have struggled throwing the football, ranking No. 98 nationally in pass offense (194 yards per game) and are led by star tailback Ralph Webb, who has rushed for 1,172 yards and 12 touchdowns. NC State is currently ranked No. 5 nationally in rush defense, as they yielded just 104.7 yards per game on the ground during the regular season.
It's major improvement for a Wolfpack defense that yielded nearly 150 yards per game last season.
"It's definitely beautiful to see," said Chubb. "Last year we gave up a lot of big plays, and a lot of those plays were run plays. We weren't where we wanted to be and then to see the defense take on that role of we're going to stop the run and become number four in the country out of 128 plus teams.
"It's just a blessing and it's good to see everybody's hard work just finally paying off and hopefully we can transform those whole record to win and not just statistics. We'll see how it goes. Everybody's hoping for the best and everybody's going to play their heart out, I know that for sure."
Chubb's development played a major role in the success. The dynamic junior finished the year with 20.5 tackles for a loss, which currently ranks sixth nationally, and nine sacks. Soon he'll have a decision to make on if he'll declare for the NFL draft.
"Bradley is disruptive," said NC State head coach Dave Doeren. "He's making the plays in the backfield where a year ago sometimes he'd get there and miss the play. He's strong, so he's really good in the run game."
Chbub's focus is on Vanderbilt and ending the 2016 season on a high note.
"I definitely feel like we could have won a lot more games than we did," he said. "As a team that's just something we need to focus on in the offseason... definitely working towards finishing those games that we had but we just didn't quite finish. So, that was a little disappointing for my season.
"But I really thank my teammates, thank my defensive linemen for putting all that work in. Top-four rush defense in the country... that's just amazing and it feels so good and then to have all the tackles for a loss that I had it was definitely a plus in my season. It's just those games that were a little disappointing... that was the only thing I found disappointing throughout the season was those games that we couldn't finish."