Dec. 18, 2011 Photo Gallery
When the Texas Longhorns finished the 2011 regular season with a 7-5 record, they earned the right, in common parlance, to "go bowling." After accepting a bid to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 28, they exercised that right.
On Saturday, however, the Longhorns literally did go bowling as the team took a relaxing afternoon to spend some time as a group resting and bonding by knocking over the pins at Highland Lanes.
Longhorn players, coaches who weren't on the recruiting trail along with their families, and football staff were present for the event.
Associate Athletics Director for Football Operations Arthur Johnson explained, "It's mainly team building and family. It gives them a chance to get away and relax. Get away from practice. They've been through a stressful time - a long season plus final exams. We practiced for three days. This is sort of like a break, and then we'll have three more days before they break and go to San Diego for the bowl game."
The outing serves as a time for the players' bodies to heal, while still allowing the team to spend time with teammates letting off steam and bonding away from the football field.
"It builds a lot of team chemistry," said senior running back Fozzy Whittaker. "You know, just hanging out with our brothers. Just doing something fun outside of football and just kind of relaxing and having fun with each other."
"It just builds that extra factor that all football teams need," added senior offensive guard David Snow. "We love hanging out with each other. The main point of this is just to get us outside of that grind of football and get us out here to connect on a different level .
"Whenever you have a whole group of people - family - fighting for each other, they care about one another, [so] it puts a different factor into the whole game. Everybody just plays a little bit more for their family because when you have that commitment to each other then you play for that."
The feeling of family was pervasive, especially for a player like Whittaker whose knee injury will prevent him from playing in the Holiday Bowl.
"I just feel like I'm still part of the team, no matter what," Whittaker said. "Whether I'm playing or not, I still feel like I contribute in some type of way. My leadership or just giving any type of advice or just helping them out in any way I can is what I feel my job is right now."
The players had an hour of practice bowling before coming together with their unity teams for a single-elimination tournament. And competing with players outside of their position group or their core of close comrades, also helped the team to gel.
"I think it is really important," said junior running back D.J. Monroe. "Sometimes you don't know everybody on the team and when you get everybody together, it's just like one big happy family. And I like doing things like this because sometimes you have players that are [hesitant] to talk to other people. But when everybody is together and having a good time, it's easier to come into one. That's what I like about this whole activity."
The dimly lit alleys with their ultra-smooth surfaces and the multi-colored shoes worn by the participants are not the standard venue or equipment usually utilized by the Longhorn players, but that didn't stop the level of play from being highly competitive.
"It's competitive," said Monroe. "It's in our blood, and that's what we do. And we like to come out and have fun, but also at the end of the day have your bragging rights. That's what I'm her for, to get the win."
The `Horns returned to practice on Sunday rejuvenated in body and mind and now have their focus set squarely on defeating the California Bears in the Holiday Bowl.
And when they look back to Saturday and reminisce about the time spent laughing, teasing and competing with teammates, they'll have lots of memories to take with them.
And when asked one of the things he would always remember about the event, Whittaker replied with a smile, "Definitely the shoes. Definitely."