Postcards From Boise

Dec. 27, 2007

Day 3 Photo Gallery
Day 2 Photo Gallery
Day 1 Photo Gallery

Georgia Tech’s football team is in Boise, Idaho this week preparing for Monday’s Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl Game against Fresno State. The following diary and notebook is being written by assistant athletic director for media relations, Dean Buchan, and will be updated periodically.

Last update: Monday, Dec. 31/2:30 p.m. ET

Thursday, December 27
The logistics of moving 200 people – 100 football players, plus coaches, administrators, support staff, managers, trainers and cheerleaders – from Atlanta to Boise for five days must be mind-numbing. The planning that has gone into this trip to Idaho has been going on for weeks, mostly by director of football operations Butch Brooks and associate athletic director Paul Griffin.

Think about the details of a trip like this: chartering a plane, buses in both Atlanta and Boise, more than 100 hotel rooms and feeding a large group of large guys over and over again. Brooks and Griffin – and Brooks’ assistant, Rob Drake – also have to organize security, police escorts, meeting space, practice times, etc. And somewhere along the way there is a football game to be played.

Credit should also go to equipment guy Tom Connors and his staff. Imagine packing practice and game gear – cold-weather gear at that – for more than 100 people. They also spent much of this afternoon transporting literally a ton of luggage. I know everyone on this trip appreciates what they do.

1:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Touchdown! After a smooth, five-hour flight, we arrived in Boise, somewhat surprised that it was a balmy 30 degrees and that the sun was shining.

3:00 p.m.
We’ve been here just a few hours and Georgia Tech has already defeated Fresno State… in bowling. At least that’s what I hear. At 5-foot-9, it was difficult to see when 200 football players representing both schools stood between me and the pins.

The players seemed to enjoy the event. For each pin knocked down, two pounds of beef will be donated to charities in both Boise and Atlanta.

There was a surprising large media turnout. Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and media members from Boise and Fresno interviewed Tech’s Jon Tenuta, Tashard Choice, Taylor Bennett and others.

6:15 p.m.
Tonight’s Welcome Dinner was the kind of event the players really like — plenty of good food in a short amount of time. No sponsors making long talks. Just a quick word of welcome from the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl officials, followed by plenty of barbecue and brisket.

After a team meeting, the players are free the rest of the evening. Two inches of snow are expected in Boise tonight. Tomorrow comes early. The bus leaves for practice at 7:15 and the first whistle is at 8 a.m.

Friday, December 28
6:30 a.m.
The temperature is in the 20’s, but the wind chill is approximately 8,000-below as a couple of us make the three-block walk to a Seattle-based coffee chain. The overpriced coffee is cold before we get back to the hotel.

It is snowing. Seth Gerard, our assistant sports information director, claims that this particular snow is good for skiing, but not for making snowballs.That’s probably a good thing because the players are antsy to begin a full-scale snowball fight.

8:00 a.m.
So this is the famous blue turf.

Boise State’s football facilities are outstanding. The Yellow Jackets began this morning’s practice in BSU’s indoor practice facility — one of the nicer ones you’ll see. The players are in full gear, including optional white hoods that give them an alien-like appearance. Regardless of appearance, the hoods will come in handy when they venture outdoors to the blue turf.

The locker rooms are at the opposite end of the stadium from the indoor facility, which means about a 150-yard walk. Doesn’t seem to bother offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who is wearing shorts. Meanwhile, associate athletic director Wayne Hogan is so layered he looks like the Michelin Man.

11:30 a.m.
Five Georgia Tech buses with chains on tires made the hour-long journey up the mountain to Bogus Basin. The trek along the winding road was picturesque to some, downright frightful to others. Tashard Choice was so rattled, he vowed to close his eyes the entire trip home.

Anyone in our party who dared to go tubing was free to do so. For two hours the Bogus Basin tubing area was reserved for the Yellow Jackets and everyone seemed to have a good time. It was difficult to tell which was more fun for the players — tubing or taking part in a mass snowball fight. Players used their tubes as shields. Players plotted to ambush teammates. Greg Smith attempted to throw a snow boulder that no doubt weighed more than him. Even the poor Bogus Basin employees and bowl volunteers got caught in the crossfire.

There are 31 other bowl games, but I doubt they went tubing in Shreveport or El Paso. There are things that make this particular bowl unique other than getting a chance to go to a ski resort. This medium-sized city embraces the event, now in its 10th year. And the bowl officials seem to have a genuine interest in the experience of the players and coaches.

6:00 p.m.
Another quick but enjoyable dinner and the players were free the rest of the night — at least until curfew. There are good kids on this team, so there is not a lot of worry about someone getting into trouble.

The National Basketball Developmental League — the “D League” — has a franchise in Boise, the Idaho Stampede. A nice basketball arena is connected to the hotel. You can get to the arena through the hotel lobby. Tonight, several Yellow Jacket players — freshmen Morgan Burnett and D.J. Donley, among others — watched the Stampede run all over the Anaheim Arsenal. Professional basketball can be painful to watch, but the atmosphere at this one isn’t bad.

About 25,000 fans are expected for Monday’s game — many of them supporting Fresno State. The jury is still out on who the Boise State fans will cheer for. Will they align with Fresno, like Boise State, a member of the WAC? Or, will they cheer against their rival and become Georgia Tech fans for a day? It’s too close to call at this point, but the people of Boise have been extremely friendly to those wearing gold and white.

Saturday, December 29
11:30 a.m.
A press conference was held at Bronco Stadium and Jon Tenuta, Tashard Choice, Gary Guyton, Kevin Tuminello and Philip Wheeler represented Georgia Tech. Each one did a nice job fielding questions from media from Atlanta, Boise and Fresno.

How much will Georgia Tech miss Choice? Never mind he is one of the greatest running backs in Yellow Jacket history. He is a tremendous leader and he is a fantastic representative of Tech. As he usually does, Choice lit up the room today at the press conference and had everyone laughing. Expect him to end his career with a bang on Monday.

3:30 p.m.
The weather at practice today was much better. Sure, it’s cold, but snow didn’t cover the blue turf and the winds were calm. The Yellow Jackets practiced in helmets and shoulder pads for just over 90 minutes. Both teams have had more than a month to prepare.

6:30 p.m.
The Humanitarian Awards Dinner is the centerpiece of the pre-game festivities. Both teams attend as well as sponsors, guests and local supporters. Charlie Ward, the former Heisman Trophy winner and Florida State quarterback, was honored and spoke briefly.

Both teams provided highlight videos and the video provided by Georgia Tech’s Todd McCarthy was outstanding. Tashard Choice was awarded a nice trophy for his work on and off the playing field. Public speaking is not one of Choice’s fears. He grabbed the microphone and did a nice job speaking to the crowd of approximately 400 people.

There was plenty of unintentional comic relief. The banquet emcee called Choice “Tashard Johnson”. Linebacker Shane Bowen was chosen to accept the award for Tech’s victory earlier this week in the bowling competition, even though Bowen was responsible for knocking down just one pin. The Fresno State kicker was honored with an award and the accompanying video said that the kid can bench press 395 pounds. That prompted Tech kicker Travis Bell to roll up his sleeves in an effort to show off his own guns (the term “guns” may be a stretch in this instance). And Choice nearly fumbled his trophy on stage.

These type of banquet functions are difficult to successfully pull off. You have to satisfy the sponsors, there are many people and volunteers to thank and there are speakers to speak. All the while you have coaches antsy to get back to watch film and players who can’t sit still for more than an hour. As far as those type of banquets go, this one was a success.

The key is the emcee. He or she needs to keep the event flowing smoothly but quickly. They should never quote Lou Holtz. And if they are going to stop the flow of the banquet with a joke, well, it better be darned funny.

The players, following the banquet, had more free time. Just over 40 hours until kickoff.

Sunday, December 30
10:00 a.m.
As part of the Humanitarian Bowl’s Community Outreach Program, some Georgia Tech players, cheerleaders and Buzz visited three local hospitals this morning, spending 90 minutes with kids and their parents. Tashard Choice, Scott Blair, Darrell Robertson and Jamal Lewis joined several cheerleaders and Buzz at St. Luke’s, St. Al’s and the VA Hospital in Boise. They went door to door visiting with the children, from infants to teenagers, signing footballs and posing for pictures.

The children were so appreciative of this, although some were a little scared of Buzz! The players were genuinely happy to be there and may have gotten as much or more from the experience than the kids. It was great to see the interaction between the players and the patients. Televisions in several hospital rooms are sure to be tuned in to the game tomorrow and Boise now has a few new Georgia Tech fans.

2:00 p.m.
You think this team is feeling pressure? Pressure to win the final game for 18 seniors? Pressure to perform well for a new head coach sitting in the press box tomorrow? Pressure to win for the ACC? Think again. This is a loose bunch.

With all serious preparation behind them, the Yellow Jackets used part of today’s walk-through at Boise State’s indoor practice facility for play time. The offensive linemen got a chance to run fade routes and attempt to catch uncontested passes in the corner of the end zone. Pure comedy. Watching 6-foot, 299-pound Andrew Folkner — sweatpants falling down and belly hanging out — trying to imitate Randy Moss is a vision many of us will unfortunately not be able to forget for some time.

Punter Durant Brooks and kicker Travis Bell read the starting lineups for ESPN2. Both guys did a great job and it’s appropriate that perhaps the best punter-kicker combination in college footall got the opportunity. Personally, I am really going to miss those guys next year.

4:00 p.m.
ESPN2 announcers Dave Lamont, James Hasty and Heather Cox met with Jon Tenuta, John Bond, Tashard Choice, Philip Wheeler and Djay Jones.

Tenuta, during his stint as head coach, has been accessible and has done a nice job dealing with the media.

Bond hasn’t received the credit that he deserves. What he did with the offense, which ranked third in the ACC this season, is remarkable. Think about. He had to replace one of the best wide receivers in ACC history in Calvin Johnson and he had to replace a four-year starter at quarterback in Reggie Ball. He had a veteran offensive line, but it was a unit that suffered numerous injuries in 2007. It was a patchwork group at best. Sure, Bond had the ACC’s best running back in Tashard Choice, but Choice was plagued with hamstring and knee injuries. Choice’s back-up, Rashaun Grant, was injured most of the season.

Jones is a really good guy, he’s intelligent and his genuine care and interest in a cancer-stricken classmate is touching. It’s been well-documented that Jones formed a friendship with Sara Keene, who was diagnosed earlier this year with cancer. Sara isn’t doing all that well — she’s currently in an Atlanta hospital, where she will watch the game tomorrow.

Djay knows that Sara will be watching the game on television Monday and he wanted to do something to lift her spirits. Every player will wear orange wristbands — Shirlock Foundation wristbands — in Monday’s game to honor her and to bring awareness to the Foundation. Djay plans to wear a bunch of them, not to bring attention to himself, but to let Sara know he is thinking of her while playing in a college football game for the last time.

What a great ending it would be if Jones intercepts a pass and returns it for the game-winning touchdown. Of course if that doesn’t happen, Jones can be proud of everything that he has accomplished.

Curfew comes early tonight for the players. Kickoff in Boise is just after noon and that means an early wake-up call.

Monday, December 31
10:00 a.m.
I admit it. Back in late November, when it wasn’t clear where Georgia Tech’s bowl destination would be, I was among those hoping to go to Nashville, San Francisco or Charlotte; in part because I despise cold weather and partly because Charlotte or Nashville would have been more convenient for our fans.

After four days in Boise, however, my opinion has changed. This has been a very good bowl experience for Georgia Tech. Boise is a beautiful, growing city. More importantly, the people here have treated our players and staff exceptionally well.

11:00 a.m.
Just our luck that Georgia Tech is sent to Boise the same year that Boise State is in the process of building a new press box. That means for people like radio play-by-play announcer Wes Durham and others will be in a temporary, open-air press box today. Open-air press boxes are great — when it’s in Atlanta, or Clemson, or anyplace warm. I can see my breath and can’t feel my fingers. I feel like a reporter covering the Winter X Games.

New head coach Paul Johnson is here, sitting in the stands with athletic director Dan Radakovich.

12:15 p.m.
The crowd is definitely a Fresno State crowd. Looks like the fine folks of Boise have alligned with their conference rival.

Georgia Tech strikes first. A lengthy touchdown pass from Taylor Bennett to Demaryius Thomas and the Yellow Jackets lead 7-0. Tech came out in its two-minute offense off the bat.

But that would be one of the few highlights for the Yellow Jackets this day. An inspired Fresno State team piled up 571 yards of offense and won the game, 40-28.

There were some positives. True freshmen Jonathan Dwyer (2 touchdowns), D.J. Donley (TD, blocked punt) and Morgan Burnett (7 tackles, pass break-up) had solid days. Back-up quarterback Calvin Booker looked good in the second half. Philip Wheeler and Darryl Richard had very good efforts on defense. Ray Guy Award winner Durant Brooks attempted — and completed — the first pass of his career on a fake punt, although the play was called back because of penalty.

Several Yellow Jackets were banged-up. Tashard Choice nursed a knee injury. Michael Johnson left the game with a shoulder injury. Quarterback Taylor Bennett broke a bone in his throwing hand. Senior cornerback Avery Roberson gave us all a scare when he layed motionless on the field for several minutes. Turns out Avery is just fine.

11:30 p.m.

Riding a tailwind, we got back to Atlanta sooner than expected. Our police-escorted convoy of buses crossed paths with the buses of either Clemson or Auburn, we’re not sure, just past midnight near downtown.

By the time we reached campus, it was 2008. The Paul Johnson era officially begins.

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