Players lean on each other during holidays when bowl games separate families

By Stefan Stevenson - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

DALLAS — Few college football players would give up the chance to play in a bowl game, especially as one as special as the Cotton Bowl pitting two historic powers Ohio State and USC.

But it’s still a small sacrifice for the players, coaches and staff, who spent Christmas away from their families.

“That’s something people just don’t understand. They don’t think about it,” said Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes. “Everybody just sees Dec. 29 but don’t see Dec. 25 when we’re here watching people open gifts through FaceTime.”

Teammate Sam Hubbard also tried making the best of a Christmas away from family by using the video calling application.

“It was hard for everybody. It was hard for the coaches, the support staff, you can feel the weight everyone was walking around with that day,” Hubbard said. “It’s something I’ve never experienced. It was a regular work day. The only thing different about it was it was Christmas.”

The players end up leaning on each other, which helps tighten team bonds.

“That’s the positive, but also we’re in a huge bowl game and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Hubbard said. “You talk to (your family) on FaceTime and open presents another time.”

USC offensive tackle Toa Lobendahn said he tried turning it into a positive. “It’s definitely hard but I feel like there’s enough complaining about it,” he said.

It was a double whammy for Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker, who turned 21 on Christmas Day.

“It’s definitely a little weird, waking up and your family is not there,” he said.

Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa said the Buckeyes passed the time playing arcade games and hanging out together at Main Event.

“Christmas has always been the biggest family time for my family,” he said. “Being away from family was kind of depressing.”

Holmes wondered whether most fans realize how much time players spend away from home.

“If we expanded the playoffs (to eight teams) that means we have to get ready for the playoffs during exam week,” said Holmes, who included the support staff, equipment staff and trainers who travel with a college football team. “People think we show up on Dec. 28th and play the game (on Friday). And you have people that don’t get the glory we do who are missing time from their family, too.”

Holmes wasn’t complaining because “it’s what you sign up for,” he said.

“But it was real hard for me waking up on (Christmas) morning in a hotel in Dallas and not at home in Virginia.”


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By Stefan Stevenson

Fort Worth Star-Telegram