MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Following four consecutive days of practice at its home facilities in Jonesboro, the Arkansas State football team loaded buses Tuesday morning at Centennial Bank Stadium ready to make its departure for Montgomery to continue its preparations for the upcoming Camellia Bowl in Alabama.
The Red Wolves departed from their home stadium at approximately 10 a.m. and arrived late afternoon at their official team hotel, the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa at the Convention Center, officially marking the start of their five-day stay in the Camellia Bowl’s host city.
The players had a team meeting upon arrival and later picked up their team bowl gifts and gear at the hotel. The Red Wolves resumed their practice schedule today at 11 a.m. at Huntingdon College’s W. James Samford Jr. Stadium, where they will also workout Thursday morning. A-State’s final on-field practice before the actual bowl game will be a Friday walk-through at the Cramton Bowl.
The first official bowl function, a press conference with bowl-game and city officials and both the Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee athletics directors and head coaches, was held this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. at the Montgomery Area Visitor Center at Union Station.
“I know our fans are excited about (this bowl game’s) proximity to Jonesboro,” said A-State Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir at the press conference. “I want to thank Raycom – they are a great organization. We have a Raycom station in Jonesboro that is fantastic. Johnny Williams, there’s not a better executive director in the country that understands the administration, fans, players, coaches, and what it takes to mobilize a whole group of people to come down here, so we’re real excited about that.”
Arkansas State is set to make its seventh consecutive bowl-game appearance when it faces Middle Tennessee Dec. 16 in the 2017 Camellia Bowl. The 7:00 p.m. game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
“Our opponent, Middle Tennessee, Coach Rick Stockstill is a phenomenal coach. He’s done a great job in the Sun Belt before and now Conference USA. (Athletic Director) Chris Massaro runs a wonderful athletics program with a lot of success in a lot of their programs. We’re thrilled to be here to represent the Sun Belt. The hotel is beautiful and the town is beautiful, so we’re really excited to be here.”
The Red Wolves concluded their regular season with a 7-4 overall record and will now make their first-ever appearance in the Camellia Bowl, which played its inaugural game in 2014.
“I just want to reiterate how excited we are to be here, and we are fortunate to have gone to seven straight bowls –the last four under my staff,” said A-State head coach Blake Anderson. “We’ve not been here yet ,and talking to some of the other people in our league that have been here, they had a blast, including the way they were treated, the community, the events for the players, and the game itself.
“This is a great venue for our fans as well and both Terry and I tried to make it possible for as many students to travel, so hopefully they will turn out in record numbers. I think just watching our players’ reaction to where we were going to go and who we were going to play, you could tell how excited they were for the opportunity to play.”
A-State will face a 6-6 Middle Tennessee team that shared the Sun Belt Conference with the Red Wolves from 2001-12 before joining Conference USA. While Arkansas State finished third in the Sun Belt standings this season with a 6-2 mark, it has still won the league five of the last seven seasons. The Blue Raiders ended the year tied for third in C-USA’s West Division with a 4-4 record.
“We’re excited to play a good team in Middle Tennessee,” Anderson said. “Rick’s got a good team, led by his son, who will be one of the best quarterbacks we will see play this year. They have a defense that’s playing well too, so it will be a tremendous challenge for us. For us, when we talk bowl game, we want to celebrate our senior class, who’s done a great job and most of which went through three head coaches. They’ve been through a lot of transition so this is about celebrating that group of young men who have done so much for our university.”
“Every time you get an opportunity to play in the postseason you have to relish that opportunity and do the best you can. I promise you our team will play hard Saturday night and take every opportunity this week to do the best they can, whether it’s an event offered by the bowl, a charitable event, whatever it may be. We always pride ourselves in jumping in and rolling our sleeves up to do the best we can to represent our university, the bowl itself, and our conference. We appreciate the opportunity and we are thankful to all the people it takes to get this thing off the ground.”