By Justin Rosenberg
NASSAU, Bahamas – No university was more excited to hear their bowl destination than the Central Michigan University Chippewas. The team’s reaction to being selected as a participant in the 2014 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl went viral, and their excitement hasn’t ceased since. But no amount of enthusiasm could prepare them for what awaited when they arrived at The Atlantis Saturday afternoon.
“The way [head] coach [Dan Enos] built it up, I couldn’t put the image in my head until I got here,” Central Michigan tight end Deon Butler said. “My mind was just blown.”
There’s a reason Butler couldn’t put the image in his head. After all, how do you comprehend a place that accurately describes itself as ‘Paradise”? Because that’s what this place is according to Butler and several of his teammates. Throw in the warmth, hospitality and overall excitement exhibited by the Bahamians, and no one can blame Butler – or any of the players – for not being able to conjure up the proper images in his head.
“You dream about it. You see it on TV – all the photos and videos – but you never realize that you can actually be here,” Butler continued.
WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty was on board with Butler’s comments. “We were excited at first, but getting here and seeing it – it’s than better than you think,” according to the senior gunslinger.
That sentiment seemed to be the running theme from both Central Michigan and WKU players as they got acclimated to their surroundings during Saturday night’s welcome festivities. Chippewas’ quarterback Cooper Rush sees this experience as the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to visit a country he might never have been able to visit otherwise. WKU center Derrick Stark is still in disbelief that football is allowing him to visit a place like this. But Hilltoppers right tackle Cameron Clemmons took it a step further than the rest.
“Every team in the country wants to be here,” Clemmons proclaimed. “Even the teams playing in the playoff.”
Was it hyperbole? Perhaps. But when proclamations like that are made on a beautiful 80-degree night in the middle of December while staring at the dueling backdrops of a world-class resort and the ocean – well, let’s just say … no one is going to argue with you. Add in the unique honor of representing American football to a country that doesn’t have much experience with the sport, and the excitement is even more understandable.
“We get to showcase our talent to people, and to maybe get them to open their eyes to this sport. No other experience really compares,” Hilltoppers left tackle Forrest Lamp said. “It’s a dream to be able to open people’s eyes to this sport that we’ve dedicated our lives to.”
From the looks of it, the Bahamians are thrilled at the chance to watch American football played at its highest amateur level, as players have seen nothing but support from them since their arrival.
“The people here have been awesome,” Doughty said, “We’re walking around like celebrities.”
It’s that celebrity status that gives Doughty some pause and makes him see the bigger mission at hand with this trip. Yes, there’s a game to be played, but just as important to the senior Hilltopper is the chance to make a difference in this community by giving back to it throughout the week.
“Jesus has given us the greatest gifts. To be able to give back to other people is an important thing to do,” he said.
Lamp agreed, “When the community supports you like the Bahamas has supported us, we take pleasure in supporting them and their community.”