SAN DIEGO Bowled over? The Utes aren't. They're excited to be participating in postseason play for the fifth consecutive year.
"It doesn't get old. This is a benefit. It's a reward for the players for their toughness and perseverance through a very difficult season," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "They deserve this reward. But we're (here) to play the game and win the game. That's the bottom line."
The Utes arrived in San Diego Sunday morning to finalize preparations for the Poinsettia Bowl. They'll face Navy Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium.
A welcoming committee of approximately 50 bowl representatives in bright red jackets greeted the Utes at the team hotel. They rolled out a red carpet as a mariachi band played.
"It's great to be here a great reception by the bowl committee," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "These guys have done the Holiday Bowl for so many years so they know exactly what they're doing. It's very reminiscent of the way you are treated at the Fiesta Bowl as far as the bowl organization, the reception and so forth."
Senior captain Steve Tate agreed.
"This is as good as it gets," he said. "It's comparable to the Fiesta Bowl, how they greeted us. We're happy to be here nice weather, we can't complain."
Before concluding the travel day with a welcoming dinner sponsored by the bowl, most of the players and coaches attended the NFL game between the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions to watch former teammate Eric Weddle play.
Weddle has a room on the players' floor at the Utah hotel and plans to hang out with his former teammates.
"He's ready to go," said Tate, who noted that Weddle and wife Chanel, who are expecting their first child, also will be involved with some of the bowl activities. "They've got all the plans for everything."
Utah will practice today and tomorrow at the University of San Diego. Bowl activities will follow each session.
The first day features the Poinsettia Grand Prix at the Miramar Speed Circuit, where the Utes and Midshipmen will race go-karts, play video games and eat a barbecue lunch.
On Tuesday, Navy will visit the San Diego Zoo, while the Utes will spend a couple of hours at Sea World. A trip to the Ronald McDonald House follows with selected players visiting guest families, serving dinner and distributing gifts.
"It's great to be here," Whittingham said. "Look at the weather (mid-60s, partly cloudy), you can't beat this."
Bowl functions wrap up with a press conference featuring the head coaches at the Omni Hotel on Wednesday and a luncheon for both teams aboard the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, the USS Midway. The high-energy gathering is scheduled to include a Battle of the Bands and other presentations.
Thursday is game day with kickoff set for 7 p.m., MST.
"I can't wait. It's my first bowl," redshirt freshman Paul Kruger said. "I'm really excited to go out there."
Especially, he added, with a national audience watching the season's first bowl game on ESPN.
"Definitely," Kruger said. "It's always a big deal to play on national television and be able to go have that opportunity."
Quarterback Brian Johnson agrees.
"You get a chance for everyone to watch you play," he said. "And we want to come out and play well."
Middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni has been thinking about it a lot."It's a big game. Everybody's going to be watching. It's the only game (Thursday), and it's the first game," the senior explained. "Everybody's going to be excited to start watching bowl games and stuff, and we're the first. We've got to set the tone."
E-mail: [email protected]