Independence Bowl Notebook

SHREVEPORT, La. - Monday night was really the last late night on the town for the Cowboys during their stay in Shreveport, except for the players staying over following the PetroSun Independence Bowl game on Thursday. Many players cut it close at The Louisiana Boardwalk and the entertainment district before heading back to find Mike Gundy in the hallway personally checking the 1 a.m. curfew.

Most of the late nighters opted for the extra hour of sleep Tuesday morning while close to 20 players left the hotel at 7 a.m. for the Independence Bowl FCA Breakfast. The FCA does a breakfast for both teams and area high school athletes and sponsors at every one of the 32 bowl sites. The Independence Bowl has had an FCA event in 30 of the 31 years they've had a game. This year's breakfast had some highlights.

The Cowboy contingent was headed by defensive line coach Nelson Barnes and defensive ends Victor DeGrate and Darnell Smith, and quarterback Zac Robinson. All four did an excellent job of speaking to the audience including Darnell Smith, whose father is a Baptist preacher. The host on stage told Darnell after he presented his message that he certainly learned well and knew how to preach.

Former Dallas Cowboy and NFL Hall of Fame offensive tackle Rayfield Wright is the President of PetroSun, the title sponsor of the Independence Bowl. Wright was the featured speaker for the breakfast and had the crowd riveted with stories from his life and football career including his first start as a Dallas Cowboy.

"Coach (Tom) Landry told me I was starting on Sunday," started Wright. "We were playing the Los Angeles Rams in the Coliseum and that meant going against the Fearsome Foursome, the Rams great defensive line and for me going against the meanest of the four, they called him the Deacon, David Deacon Jones.

"The first play Jones was talking to me asking me if my momma knew I was out there and I missed the snap count," continued Wright. "As I came out of my snap he used a move that is no longer legal, a head slap and knocked me to the ground. When the play was over he stood over me and said, 'Welcome to the NFL, rookie.' I told him that first, he didn't know my momma and second, he couldn't talk about her.

"He never got away from me the rest of the day," finished Wright. "The Cowboys won and I ended up being the player of the game. You have to conquer your fears if you are going to be a successful Christian and a successful football player."

Wright, by the way, still looks like he could play. He talked of being impressed by the players present from both groups and especially Darnell Smith.

The Cowboys were at the stadium by 10:15 a.m. and took their official bowl game team picture and then went through a two hour practice in helmets and sweats. The practice emphasized special teams and a complete run through the game plan on offense and a complete look for the defense at what is expected from Alabama.

"I've been very impressed with our players," said offensive coordinator Larry Fedora. "They have come down here with a purpose and have treated it just like every other game this season. When they have been off the field they understand that we can have a good time, but when it comes to football they have been able to do that."

"We've prepared for two different offenses, one a rushing offense and the other a passing offense," said defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. "I think our guys will be ready because they have come down here with a purpose. They have worked hard and we can tell they want to win the game."

"They've (special teams players) done a great job," said assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Joe DeForest. "They finished off the year number one in the Big 12 overall in special teams. They take a lot of pride in that and I think they know we can have an advantage in the game because of our special teams."

For most of the players the afternoon was free unless they opted to be a part of the group of players that visited the children's ward at a Shreveport hospital. Sixty players signed up and volunteered to spend the time to make others feel better than have the time to themselves.

Tuesday night was their last free night before the game. Players were on their own for dinner and had free time until the 11 p.m. curfew.

The group of 105 players will split Wednesday with the 69 members of the travel squad having a walk through at the stadium, meetings, team dinner, a movie, and a 10 p.m. curfew.

Game time for the PetroSun Independence Bowl is 3:30 p.m. on Thursday with the game being carried by ESPN in high definition and on radio by the Cowboy Network.

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