NASSAU, Bahamas – The participants for the 2015 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl arrived at Atlantis Sunday afternoon ready for a business trip unlike any other – trying to find the balance between preparing for a football game, giving back to the Bahamian community and enjoying everything that paradise has to offer.
“We want to experience everything the Bahamas has for us, but also understand why we’re really here,” Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck said. “It’s bridging that gap between all three of those things and bringing it all together.”
His counterpart, Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill, shared similar sentiments ahead of tonight’s welcome reception: “You’ve got to be mature. There’s a time you’re on the clock, and you work. There’s a time you’re off the clock, and you enjoy Atlantis and the Bahamas.”
The enjoyment part should be easy with both teams excited for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl offers. From the water slides to the shark tanks, the beaches to the sun, and just enjoying the incredible Bahamian culture – the players will be at no loss for fun outside the work. But one activity on the week’s itinerary stood out for most players:
“I want to swim with the dolphins,” Middle Tennessee linebacker Myles Harges said.
“I’ve heard it’s an unbelievable experience,” added Western Michigan’s All-Mac offensive lineman Willie Beavers.
Aside from swimming with the dolphins, the two teams are also both looking forward to the opportunity to give back to the Bahamian community that is providing them with this incredible opportunity. They’ll have that chance to give back on Tuesday when they visit the Ranfurly Homes for Children and partake in the USA Football sponsored Heads-Up Football Clinic – two events that speak to the core of the Western Michigan football program according to Fleck. And his players agree.
“We love football, but another thing we love to do is to serve others,” Western Michigan Quarterback Zach Terrell said. “What an opportunity not only to be here at the Atlantis, and to have all that fun, but really the opportunity to serve. That’s what our program is all about – serving.”
Stockstill has instilled the same qualities in his team, but he sees an even bigger purpose to participating in Tuesday’s Heads-Up Football Clinic: “Maybe one little kid might see something that stimulates his passion, and gets him excited to play football. For me, it’s not so much football. Its young kids. I think it’s important for today’s youth to get involved in team sports. It prepares you for the real world.”
But how does a head coach balance his players’ on-field responsibilities with his desires to enjoy the week? Fleck has an idea.
“When we work, we work. When we have fun, we have fun,” he said. “I think the biggest part is building a bridge between those two. I think our schedule allows our players to do that.