FORT WORTH — Amid a trying season, Tulsa has learned plenty about adversity.
The Golden Hurricane's 1-3 start on the field pales in comparison to the kind of hardship they've dealt with this year off the field.
Over the past nine months, Tulsa has seen three former players who were part of the team that defeated BYU in 2007 lose their lives.
Fifth-year senior Wilson Holloway lost his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma in February. In September, linebacker George Clinkscale, who finished his eligibility in 2009, died from injuries sustained in a boxing match. Then four-year letterman Anthony Germany, a safety who finished his career in 2007, passed away after a short illness in October.
The numbers of all three players will be displayed on the Tulsa players' helmets when the Golden Hurricane meet BYU in the Armed Forces Bowl on Friday (10 a.m., MT, ESPN).
"This team has faced a lot of tragedy, with three former teammates dying," said Tulsa defensive coordinator Brent Guy. "They've faced a lot of adversity and ups and downs. That's the one thing about these guys — they're going to battle. It gives perspective for the kids, to appreciate being healthy and being able to play college football. You learn how precious life is. One of the guys who died was in our locker room for homecoming. Three days later, he was gone. You never know, so you have to give your best every day. You always know you have to deal with some types of adversity, but not this much, especially not with death, and not with the death of teammates. That's what was so difficult about this. Winning the bowl game would be a nice way to cap this season off."
Under first-year coach Bill Blankenship, Tulsa (8-4) dropped three of its first four games, including defeats to nationally ranked Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.
But the Golden Hurricane rebounded to win seven consecutive games before falling to nationally ranked Houston in the regular-season finale.
Senior quarterback G.J. Kinne has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,876 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.
"Tulsa is a team that has a lot of grit and a lot of heart," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "That stems from their quarterback. He's a really, really good football player that makes plays, extends plays and finds a way to move the chains and lead their team. Their team takes on his identity."
Kinne can also make plays with his feet, as he has rushed for 400 yards and three TDs.
"He's very elusive, and he has nice feel for making people miss," Mendenhall said of Kinne. "I'm just impressed. He's confident, he's poised, he's tough. And he knows where the first-down markers are and he just finds a way to move his team. It will be a great challenge for us. Our players respect him."
Tulsa employs a balanced attack that is capable of being explosive. Sophomore running back Ja'Terian Douglas has gained 884 yards on 108 carries and averages 8.2 yards per carry while Trey Watts has run for 843 yards.
"When you bring everybody in the box, they're going to test the perimeters," said Cougar linebacker Kyle Van Noy. "And when you have everybody around the perimeter, they test the box. It's mind games that they play and they're good at it. And they have a great quarterback leading them."
The Golden Hurricane's defense has improved during the course of the season, according to Mendenhall.
"Up front, their skill players, their speed and athleticism are what stand out more than their size," he said. "If you had to describe them, kind of speed-oriented."
Senior linebacker Curnelius Arnick has recorded a team-high 142 tackles and ranks No. 6 in the country in tackles. He tallied 18 tackles against Boise State.
"He keeps us solid in our run game," Guy said. "He's a good tackler and he's made a lot of stops on third and fourth down. He's made a bunch of tackles for us."
BYU running back JJ Di Luigi said the Golden Hurricane defense is physical. "They fly around. They're a good team, probably one of the better defenses we'll face this year," he said. "It's going to be a good test."
In a season filled with adversity, a victory in the Armed Forces Bowl would be an ideal ending for Tulsa.
"It's been a really unusual season," Guy said. "A win would mean a lot if we could finish it off with a win over a national opponent like BYU."
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