NASSAU, Bahamas — With less than 48 hours to kickoff, Middle Tennessee and Toledo student-athletes and coaches are embracing the memories they’re making off the field, but are ready to cap off the season with a bang on the field.
The teams met with the media during a press conference Wednesday to chat about their week at the Atlantis Paradise Island resorts and look forward to the Bahamas Bowl, set for Friday at noon on ESPN.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, college student-athletes were allowed an extra year of eligibility, which many Blue Raiders and Rockets are cherishing.
“I’m a sixth-year guy and Reed [Blankenship] is a five-year guy, so we’ve been here a while,” MTSU receiver CJ Windham said, sitting adjacent to Blankenship at the press conference. “I feel like what a way to go out senior year by doing everything right – making sure that from practice to walk-throughs to even game day – that you do every little thing right so that you can have the best outcome possible. The days are long, but the years are short. I’ve been here a while. So, if you get to this point there is no other reason not to go as hard as you can to do the best that you can.”
Toledo lineman Bryce Harris topped Windham and Blankenship in tenure, as he’s currently in his seventh year in college after redshirting in 2015 and missing 2019 with an injury.
“I am soaking it all in – this whole experience. Yesterday was my last full-padded practice so I tried to go as hard as I possibly could,” Harris said. “The only way to go out is to go as hard as you possibly can. So I am going to exert as much energy as I possibly can and as much leadership as I possibly can. I’m going to go hard for my teammates and my coaches and try to go out with a bang.”
Because of the years of experience – including a year almost wholly lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic – everyone is cognizant of appreciating the opportunity to play football again, especially in the Bahamas.
“As they say – ‘Bowl games are better in the Bahamas,’ and we are experiencing that first hand,” Toledo Head Coach Jason Candle said. “We were down here a few years ago and it is a first-class event with a first-class facility at the Atlantis and a once in a lifetime experience for our players. Many of our players will never have the opportunity to leave the country and what a great way to do it at such a very influential time in their life…This is unlike any bowl game or any experience you can have playing a college football game. This is very unique. You are talking about a 5-star place that people fly in from all over the world to see, and we are blessed and honored to be part of the football game.”
Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill agreed. “Everybody that got on that plane to come here – families, players, coaches, administrators, everybody that came here – is appreciative of the opportunity,” he said. “Not everybody gets to do this. Like CJ and Reed said, most of our team had never been out of their hometowns. Now, to be able to come out of the country, it’s a very humbling experience. I hope they walk away from here and realize how lucky they are and how appreciative they should be with everybody associated with this bowl.”
Blankenship succinctly summarized the teams’ feeling with a simple, rhetorical question: “Who doesn’t want to come play down here?”
Bahamas Bowl Grateful to Include Bahamas in Extra Yard for Teachers
For the first time in 2021, Bahamian teachers are included in the College Football Playoff Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers program.
In partnership with ESPN, $10,000 in grants are being distributed to 20 educators in the Bahamas, $500 to each.
Mary T. Evans, Thora Mckenzie and Sharoline Deal-Pratt, three of the 20 recipients, were recognized during the press conference. Each spoke about how the grants would help their classroom, ranging from protective equipment like masks and hand sanitizer, to group counseling, to basic school supplies.