In August, C.J. Brown sat at a table in the front of Glazer Auditorium in Gossett Football Team House answering questions at the Terrapins football team’s media day.
Reporters touched on a variety of subjects: How did the quarterback’s knee feel? What were the expectations for coach Randy Edsall’s third year? What did he think about the talent on the roster?
Then, bowl eligibility came up. The Terps fell short of the six-win threshold in three of the previous four years, but Brown made it clear that the postseason was the goal. But at the same time, Brown acknowledged the drawbacks of playing football during the holiday season.
“I haven’t been home for a Thanksgiving since I’ve been in college, and all the local guys get to go home. You go to a bowl game, you might not be home for Christmas either,” Brown said. “It comes with the territory. It’s a good feeling to be around the guys. The bowl game’s just a great experience overall; everyone wants to go there. Everyone knows the gifts and the experience of going to a different place and staying in hotels.”
The Terps will check in to the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington on Dec. 23 and stay until the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Annapolis. With only three participants and 16 redshirts left from the Terps’ last bowl team in 2010, it will be a new experience for many of the players. And that experience includes being away from home on Christmas for the first time.
“That’s one of the disadvantages of coming up here,” said cornerback Will Likely, a Belle Glade, Fla., native. “You know you’re going to be away from your family, so you just got to suck it up and get used to it.”
Bowl week also provides the Terps with free time they haven’t had all season long. After trying to balance football with the different elements of school, late December will be about football and only football as the Terps prepare to face an explosive Marshall team.
And while there’s extra focus on the game, staying in a swanky hotel in northwest Washington with unexpected time to kill presents its own management challenges.
“I think it could be [a distraction],” Brown said. “If you let your mind wander, if you don’t know the day-to-day process of what you need to do and focus, making sure you’re in on time at night with curfew and things like that and not just getting wrapped up in the whole bowl week. … You’re not living in a dorm; you’re staying in a nice hotel, getting all this nice food, just making sure you’re staying on top of your game.”
Brown was a backup quarterback in the 2010 Military Bowl, in which the Terps beat East Carolina, 51-20. He had suffered a broken collarbone in the second game of the 2010 season, and the practices leading up to the bowl game were his first since early September. So for him, the lead-up to the game was about getting back on the field and contributing to the winning effort.
Still, the then-redshirt freshman was sometimes in awe of the events surrounding the week and the game at RFK Stadium.
“I think the biggest thing is I kind of know what to expect the week leading up, what the practices are going to be like, not where I was younger my first time going, where I was kind of wide-eyed vision, not really knowing the day-to-day process of staying in a hotel every night, going to practice in the morning and coming back,” Brown said. “It’s just football every day.”
Brown said he’s talked to some of the younger players about what the experience will be like, and the veterans who were around three years ago will do their best to help guide the team through the Christmas holiday. A season full of firsts for the Terps — under Edsall, his first winning season and bowl game — will add another for many in spending Christmas away from home.
“This is going to be my first year,” wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo said. “It’s a good way. At least I’m doing something I love to do, so I can’t really complain.”