PHOENIX — When the West Virginia football charter flight touches down Tuesday in Arizona, it will begin the so-called “reward” portion for this season.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen follows a curfew policy that aims to balance fun time with preparation time for players afforded more freedom than a typical road game.
“There are going to be some places that you can go, and there are going to be some places that you can’t go,” he said.”You have to monitor it and let them have fun.
“Night 1 (curfew) is a little later, and then Night 2 is a little earlier. Then Night 3 and Night 4 they won’t leave the (hotel) grounds. They have will fun for a day or two, and then it is time to play.”
The inevitability of each bowl season finds players tempted to embrace the reward aspects too literally.
Two Virginia Tech seniors, including starting linebacker Deon Clarke, ran afoul of team rules on their first night in Shreveport, La., and were sent home before the Independence Bowl. Miami safety Jamal Carter lasted only 24 hours in El Paso before being shipped out ahead of the Sun Bowl.
No West Virginia players were publicly disciplined in the run-up to last year’s Liberty Bowl and the program hopes for another clean slate in Scottsdale during the days preceding Saturday’s Cactus Bowl vs. Arizona State.
“You go out there and have a good time but you’ve got to have in the back of your head that there’s still a game and you’ve got a practice,” said West Virginia senior K.J. Dillon. “The guys that it matters to the most, they won’t get too out of hand.”
With many teams treating the bowls as a launch toward next season, a player stepping out of line may suffer lasting consequences.
“I’ve seen kids where you lose them in a bowl game and you lose them for the next year because of the incident,” said WVU running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider. “That may be a kid who gets you over the top the following year.”
Thinking back to his three years as a West Virginia player, Seider admitted feeling extra incentive “to do right” because his status as a backup quarterback carried additional responsibility. Those teams suffered a string of close losses in the 1996 Gator Bowl to North Carolina (20-13), the 1997 Carquest Bowl to Georgia Tech (35-30) and the 1998 Insight Bowl to Missouri (34-31).
“I think winning is way more important than just going to a bowl game, because we never won a bowl game,” he said. “Last time we were out there (in Phoenix) we lost to Missouri. I still remember that. I don’t remember us going out and having a good time, I remember us losing to Missouri.”