The Rice Owls opened their final set of practices in advance of their Christmas Eve Hawai'i Bowl matchup with Fresno State with a balmy two-hour practice at Aloha Stadium on Saturday that also featured an appearance for a former rival coach.
As temperatures reached the mid 80's, a healthy dose of humidity gave the practice the feel of a one much closer to the start of the season rather leading up to the conclusion of the campaign. Head coach David Bailiff noted he was pleased to see how his squad responded to the challenge of the weather as well as any lingering effects of the long flight from Houston the night before.
"It was a long flight last night but I was very pleased with the way we came out and practiced, Bailiff said. "We were a little worried as a staff that with the time change we might not come out here with the energy we needed but we got after it every period. I was very pleased with everything we did starting with period one. You could tell we were really into it and trying to get better as a football team."
Senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor was happy to shake off the residue of the nearly eight-hour flight on Friday.
"We might have had a little jet lag after the long flight from Houston and it's a little hotter here that it was when we left Houston, that's for sure, but it was good to get out here and get some good work in," Taylor said. "We had a good practice, a long practice and it was hard, but I feel like we got done what we need to and we have to come back and do the same thing tomorrow."
The Owls had a special visitor to Saturday's workout as former SMU head coach June Jones had been invited by Bailiff to address the team.
"Coach Jones is a good friend, and when we got the invitation to the Hawai'i Bowl, he was my first phone call," Bailiff revealed. "I had known how well his teams had played here in the past and I was seeking his counsel. He gave us some nice insight on the things we needed to do and the things we needed to stay away from. I was thrilled to see him out here today."
"Coach Bailiff and I have been friends since I got to SMU, but go back even further than that," Jones noted. "I've always tried to support him when I could and I just wanted to come by and say hello. I told him a couple things that are kind of hard to do but at the same time it's the kind of things that tourists do and can get you in trouble. Stay off the mopeds and-I hate say this-but stay out of the ocean, because you can cut your feet on the coral and can't play in the game."
While he was head coaching at the University of Hawai'i, Jones was part of the drive to return a bowl game to Honolulu after the demise of the Aloha Bowl and he retains a belief in the rewards a berth in the game can offer the two competing teams.
"I've said it many times before since we started this game back in 2002, this is the best bowl you can go to if you are not in one of those championship series bowls. It's first class, they do a great job. The kids have fun, the families have fun. And the most important thing is to win, because the great memories just last forever.
The Owls received a heavy helping of the kind of unforgettable experiences that the Hawai'i Bowl can deliver on Saturday night when they attended a luau on the lawn of the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel on the beach at Waikiki.
Taylor and the Owls seniors have one last chance to ensure that the memories of reaching three straight bowls have lasting impact on future generations of Owls.
"The upperclassmen know that when we are away from practices and meetings, we're here to have a good time, but when it's time to meet or time to come on the field, it's time to get focused. I think we've done a good job of that so far.
"Some of (the freshmen) might not understand how big of a struggle it was to get to a bowl us early on to even make it to a bowl game. Now , it's almost expected. They don't know anything different. They understand that more when the offseason gets here. I think the seniors have done a good job of letting them know it just doesn't come. They'll have to work for it (to keep the bowl streak going).
"The mindset has definitely changed from what it was when I first got here. We're expecting to go to bowl games and expecting to play in the conference championship game," Taylor stated.