Christmas means football for USM this season

Christmas means football for USM this season

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Christmas may mean many things to many folks, like time off from work or school to gather with family and friends, celebrating the day with worship, gifts, and food. For the University of Southern Mississippi, Christmas means football.

The Golden Eagles (8-4) worked around some holiday cheer while continuing their preparation for Wednesday's Walk-On's Independence Bowl meeting with Florida State University (6-6).

Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, LA.

Many of the upperclassmen have gone through the Christmas away from home scenario. In 2015, USM played in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26, meaning they spent the heart of the Yule season at the team hotel while preparing to face the University of Washington.

"It sucks, kinda, but it's a business trip," USM senior running back Ito Smith said. "Everybody who has games around this time has to deal with it. It's whatever. It's cool."

USM senior cornerback Curtis Mikell, who was the third leading tackler against the Huskies in 2015, said he had to adjust this time after the bowl pairings were announced on Dec. 3 and the Golden Eagles found out where and when they were headed.

"I actually have (done this) once, but this time's kind of hitting me a little bit more," Mikell said. "Thought I was going to be able to spend it (at home), but hey, I'd rather play football anytime."

Traditionally, USM's bowl appearances have either fallen before Christmas or played between Dec. 30 and Jan. 1.

The first game, the 1948 Cigar Bowl in Havana, Cuba, was played Dec. 7. Next up were a pair of Jan. 1 Sun Bowl (1952-53) and Tangerine Bowl (1956-57) appearances.

Appearances in the 1980 and 1988 Independence Bowls took place prior to Christmas, as did the 1981 Tangerine Bowl, the 2000 GMAC Bowl, 2007 Papa John's Bowl, 2010 Beef O'Brady's Bowl, and five New Orleans Bowls (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2016).

The 1998 Humanitarian Bowl (Dec. 30) and three Liberty Bowl trips (Dec. 31) did not interrupt Christmas Day, nor did a Jan. 7 trip to the 2006 GMAC Bowl.

This year marks the fourth time that a postseason appearance crossed the Christmas calendar. The first was the Dec. 28 All American Bowl in 1990, followed by the 2002 Houston Bowl and the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The 2011 Hawaii Bowl was played on Christmas Eve, meaning many were traveling home on Christmas Day.

USM senior safety Tarvarius Moore said he has been on a football field during a holiday often.

"Pretty much all the later holidays throughout my whole career," Moore said. "In high school, I went to South State three years in a row, so we were (practicing) during Thanksgiving. But it's kind of special. It's something you'll always remember. Going out there on the holidays, you miss your family, but you get that bond with your teammates that you'll have memories to talk about years from now."

And, in many cases, families are on-site on Christmas Day.

"I think the majority of my family's going to be there, coming to watch me play," USM junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs said. "I think I've missed Christmas before, but I think this game's more important than that. It's a big opportunity to go out and do something that we (haven't) done in a while. So, we're excited."

USM coach Jay Hopson said holidays on the road often come with the territory

"In college football, you're always going to spend your Christmases on the road," Hopson said. "Well, you're going to spend your Christmases or New Years on the road, and that means good things are happening. So, that's always a good thing, not a bad thing."