NASSAU, Bahamas – When you’re a highly-trained athlete, you’re never really off the clock – not even when you’re enjoying a beach bash on the shores of Atlantis.
“Coach tells us about on and off the clock, and we’re off the clock right now, but we’re really not off the clock,” Middle Tennessee linebacker T.T. Barber said.
The “off-the-clock” Players Beach Bash featured a number of competitions, fun in spirit, but neither school’s athletes were about to give up an inch to their opponent in this Thursday’s Popeyes Bahamas Bowl. And while neither side is going to go home bragging about which school boasted the best 3-point shooter or who dominated on the pickleball court, Western Michigan was happy to lay claim to both on Monday afternoon.
“He didn’t know he was going against the 3-point champ. I learned from the greats – Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves,” WMU wide receiver Michael Henry said before predicting that his basketball success on Monday success was just a foreshadowing of Thursday. “We taking it home. We’re taking the ring. We want everything. Everything is a competition.”
It’s one thing for these teams to get into compete hard when it comes to shooting baskets or throwing a baseball through a target, most can relate to that. But when the most spirited competition of the afternoon comes on the pickleball court, well then you’re just taking it to a whole different level.
“Quick twitch. Athleticism. Side-to-side movement. You got to be on your insteps,” WMU head coach P.J. Fleck said while watching his kicker Austin Regan take down the competition. “You’ve got to react quick. I love it. They’re sacrificing all over the place.”
Regan, who had never played pickleball in his life, managed to win all four of his game, including one against Middle Tennessee running back Shane Tucker.
But while Tucker took his defeat in stride on Monday, he knows the real prize will be won on the field Thursday. “They are going to have to see #1 on Thursday,” he said. “It ain’t pickleball then – it’s physical ball.”