With San Jose State’s trek to the national bowl stage this Tuesday, there’s the simple, but special experiences that span the multiple days leading up to the face off against Eastern Michigan.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on ESPN (12:30 PST, Tues., Dec. 20th) at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium is the 11th of 43 overall 2022 bowl games, including the grand daddy championship game on January 9th.
It’s certainly a welcomed post season game for the Spartans in many ways, as it is for all the institutions involved with bowl games during the height of the holidays, where the added exposure and financial gain provide obvious benefits.
With the game itself being the iceberg above the water and winning the actual game the tip top, the details and unique experiences behind the scenes usually go unnoticed.
The Spartans are wheels up Friday morning and their activities and practices start soon after they land in Boise.
Friday 12/16: Albertsons Tackle Hunger event with both teams and a visit to the gift suite
Saturday 12/17: Morning team meetings, afternoon practice, free time until midnight
Sunday 12/18: Morning practice, snow tubing activity
Monday 12/19: Morning practice, press conference, Mash Bash event, pre-game preparation mode begins
Tuesday 12/20: Game day (arrive back in San Jose mid-evening)
Wednesday 12/21: National Signing Day activities start 7 AM PST
“With my bowl experience as a coach, it’s always been a special experience for the players,” said Spartan head coach Brent Brennan. “Our guys have never really been to one where they could actually go meet the opposing team and have meals together and the band and cheerleaders are there. That wasn’t part of our last bowl experience.”
Back in 2020, the Arizona Bowl game was the first under Brennan’s tenure, but it was Covid-stricken without many players, coaches and zero festivities.
“We were in a hotel and we could not leave,” said Brennan on the 2020 bowl game experience where the Spartans lost to Ball State. “It felt like a road game that lasted six days.”
Already savoring it
This week’s practices are lively like a Pop Warner team starting off a new season.
“The practice environment has been super high energy,” said Brennan. “The guys are having a great time and having fun.”
Players enjoying Christmas music at practice was a literal goal on Brennan’s pre-season list that exceeded expectations when dancing broke out to Mariah Carey’s famous Christmas song.
“It’s fun to be able to build this experience and play Christmas music in December in CEFCU and go to a bowl game!” said Assistant Director of Football Operation Ben Thienes. “All the preparations for this has been challenging, but fun. From the activities, the practices, bowl gifts, the game preparations, it’s all fun because we’re going bowling.”
Just as important as playing the actual bowl game, the players realize the importance of the entire trip as a life experience.
“I have every intention of taking it all in, especially because it’s my last experience with all the guys and I know I’m going to miss them a lot and it’s definitely heavy on my mind,” said All-Mountain West first team defensive end Cade Hall. “I really want to enjoy this time with them. Obviously, we’re there to get a win, but I also want to make the most of it with them.”
“It’s always fun to spend time with the boys,” said second team All-Mountain West QB Chevan Cordeiro, “There’s a lot of activities and time to have fun. It’s a chance to continue to get closer and to keep creating that bond before we lock in.”
400, two planes
The organization and logistics behind it all is no small feat. Way more details, way more people, more buses, and one more airplane than usual.
The additional plane is the San Jose Sharks hockey team plane, where some SJSU administration, top donors and seniors will fly.
“It’s truly above and beyond,” said Thienes. “It’s about 150 people on a normal trip. Here, we’re bringing the entire band, the entire cheer team, more administration and donors - about 400 in all. And then the three days of practice with all the management behind that.”
The extra elements and coordination includes all the fun stuff and team activities and even the free time for the players to enjoy the city.
Unsung hero behind-the-scenes
“Tanner does all the real detail work from where people are sitting on the plane, hotel room assignments, different arrival dates, and so on,” said Thienes of Director of Football Operations, Tanner Shultheis. “It’s an incredibly intricate process. He’s truly elite at his job or the experience wouldn’t all come together.”
How it hits you after the game
The madness continues even the day after. With the double duty of travel and game logistics with recruiting and National Signing Day, the hits keep on coming.
“National Signing Day the very next day is also crazy,” said Sky Kerstein, Assistant Athletics Communications Director. “Tanner, Ben, Scott, me - we have to get so much done before we leave.”
“Luckily our signings will be coming in through Docusign, so we could actually do all this in Boise,” laughed Thienes. “No checking if the fax machine has paper or if it’s plugged in anymore.”
For others, the emotions and memories start to sink in with the finality of it all.
“I have a feeling it’s not going to hit me right away,” said Hall on his very last college game. “I know I need some time to rest my body, so I think it’s going to take a bit of time to sink in, but it will.”
As Brennan can straddle a tough, no-nonsense way to run his program each year, he’s equally emotional and sentimental with each departing class.
“It was interesting the Monday after the Hawaii game. The team was on a run and I walked out to check on them and I see Cade already finished and asked, ‘How’d it go?’ said Brennan. “It all seemed like too much fun for a run.”
Hall says, ‘It’s better than that meeting you had last December after our last game.”
Junior Fehoko adds, “Yeah, I hated that meeting.”
“That meeting last year was where we thanked our seniors, say we love you and they stand up and they walk out the door and that’s it, but we’re not having that this year,” said Brennan after the Spartans didn’t make the post season last year.
“It’s hard to get to the post season, so this extra time together is truly special.”