Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina

‘Tis the Season for UNC Bowl Swag

Bowls are permitted to award gifts, not exceeding the NCAA’s limit of $550 per player, to participating schools.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There is intense preparation ongoing for No. 10 North Carolina’s Russell Athletic Bowl trip to Orlando. Strategy is critical, details must be ironed out and working together to achieve the desired result is a requirement.

This level of scheming revolves around bowl swag, not Baylor. The Tar Heels’ Christmas present from the Russell Athletic Bowl comes a day late this year, in the form of a Best Buy shopping trip valued at $350 on Dec. 26.

However, there’s a catch. The Tar Heels will have to spend the full allotment of their gift card during a 90-minute window beginning at 6:30pm. For the inexperienced bowl participant, a lackadaisical approach might result in high levels of stress and anxiety as the clock ticks down to triple zeros and the cashier stands impatiently with scanner in hand.

This veteran group of Tar Heels has been through this process before, and they understand the dedication needed to persevere.

“I remember at the Belk Bowl, we had to spend it all at the store and we had two hours,” senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “I spent an hour-and-a-half roaming the store, trying to find everything and stressing the last 30 minutes to get everything I wanted.”

In effort to prevent such paralysis by analysis, senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad and fourth-year junior John Ferranto devised a plan once the bowl destination and corresponding swag was announced.

“We’re going to go to Best Buy here, check it out, see what they’ve got, get up to our $350 mark and then call down to every Best Buy in Orlando, because we don’t know which Best Buy we’re going into, so we’re going to have to call and make sure they have all of the same things,” Rashad said. “There’s going to be a preparation process. A lot goes into this.”

This is no time for amateur hour. Go big or go home.

“Best Buy is a big store and it’s got a lot of stuff,” Ferranto said. “You don’t want to just go in there and get mesmerized by something, get locked in. You go in before for a little dry run to see if there’s anything we need or we want, so we know when we’re going in that we’ve got a plan. It’s all business.”

Bowl swag is an overlooked element of the postseason schedule by the general public. That’s not the case for the players. UNC learned it would play in the Russell Athletic Bowl several hours before Baylor received its invite, although the downtime in between was not spent on guessing its opponent. Rather, the topic of conversation immediately turned to the goodies.

“The second we found out where we were going, people were picking up their phones and searching ‘Russell Athletic Bowl gifts 2014,’ just looking back and seeing what you’re getting,” Rashad said. “That’s just the little kid coming out in everyone.”

Rashad, yet another experienced veteran on this roster, knew that Clemson and Oklahoma had played in this bowl game last December, and so he started texting teammates to ask if anyone knew a Clemson player to get insight on the bowl swag.

How the $350 will be spent varies between the players. Senior guard Landon Turner and Rashad are big video game guys, junior wide receiver Mack Hollins is a computer geek of sorts and Ferranto prefers movies.

Several players plan to utilize the gift cards to fill their Christmas shopping list. For example, Ferranto bought his sister an iPad on his Belk Bowl spending spree in 2013 and picked up a television for his parents with the gift card provided by the Quick Lane Bowl last year. In addition to the Best Buy gift card, UNC will also receive a Timely Watch Co. watch, ISlide footwear, a beach towel and a Russell Athletic performance pullover, according to the Sports Business Journal.

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