SAN DIEGO - Preparations for the Poinsettia Bowl are over, and the two teams spent the day before the game mingling with the fans at various events.
The day started off with a press conference with Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. Both coaches gave significant praise to the opposition, with Tedford even claiming that Utah would do well in the PAC-10, and playing the Utes is just like playing another conference game. "We think we're competitive and our track record speaks for itself," Whittingham said when asked about Tedford's comment. "Good football is good football, it doesn't matter if you're PAC-10 or the Mountain West or whatever the case may be. That was a nice compliment that coach Tedford paid us."
After the press conference, the festivities moved to the San Diego harbor, where the Make-a-Wish foundation hosted a luncheon about the U.S.S. Midway. Honorary captains for both teams were introduced, and stories of the hope the foundation provides were shared. There were even some humorous moments. "This is our second trip, the second time around has actually been even better than the first," coach Whittingham said. "I want to thank our administration, President Michael Young, Dr. Chris Hill our athletic director, you know when you take the Utes on a bowl trip it's a pretty big project. We've got a lot of players that are married which means a lot of wives - one wife each, only mostly - it's a pretty big travel party."
When Utah linebacker and team captain Stevenson Sylvester was introduced, it was told that he lost the Utah go-cart race the day before to fellow captain Zane Beadles - who outweighs Sylvester by 70 pounds. "First of all, it was rigged. They wanted to make the big guys look good out there so I took the slower car," Sylvester replied when asked why he was so slow. "It's all good, I got him back on the field, though, later. We had fun up there. The linebackers won the whole thing though."
"I think everything that this team has achieved since I have been here at University of Utah is above and beyond anything I ever expected when I got here," Beadles said when asked what his best memory as a Ute was. "All the on-field stuff is great, but my biggest memories leaving here would be the friendships that I made here, all the people that are around the program and all the support we received from those people and just hanging out with my boys in the locker room and that sort of thing is going to stick with me for the rest of my life."
Beadles also received a surprise at the banquet, which was announced by Poinsettia Bowl associate executive director Mark Neville "In the spirit of everything Make-A-Wish stands for and everything they do, we have developed two very special awards. They are called the 'wishes come true inspirational awards' that will come as a complete surprise to the recipients. The Utah Utes and the Cal Golden Bears have selected members of their programs who best inspire sportsmanship, scholarship and leadership." Neville went on to explain that Beadles is heavily involved in community service, and explained Beadles' senior project. "After noticing a need for disabled elevators in New Orleans while there for the All-State Sugar Bowl last year, he decided to create a low-cost elevator that could be easily assembled and disassembled." Neville told the crowd. "I want to say thank you," Beadles said in accepting the award. "I have always felt, as a student athlete it is my responsibility to give back and do whatever I can in the community because of all the opportunities we get through athletics." The Cal recipient was recruiting assistant Kevin Parker.
Later that afternoon, the Utes held their walkthrough at Qualcomm Stadium, the site of the bowl game. The Utes returned to their hotel where a pep rally was held in their honor. Neli A'asa led the crowd in a cheer, the team captains addressed the crowd, and everyone joined the band and cheerleaders singing the fight song, "Utah Man". During the captain speeches, injured running back Matt Asiata announced his attention to apply for a hardship year, telling the crowd "I'm coming back!" After the pep rally, the team turned in for the night.
The Poinsettia Bowl will be the last game for the Utah seniors, though they are trying hard not to think about that. "I'll think about that, worry about that later," Beadles said. Koa Misi says that reality has not sunk in yet. "I don't think so, not yet," Misi said. "I think it will after the game, just playing with everybody and then leaving the game afterwards and seeing everybody else leaving, knowing you aren't going to see them again because I am not going back to Utah, yeah, I think it will sink in after the game."
The two senior captains have plans for life after football, and that is why Misi will stay home in southern California. "Hopefully I'm going to sign with an agent and go train in either LA or Arizona and hopefully go to the NFL Combine," Misi said. "I know I'm going to the Senior Bowl. After that I will wait for the draft and see what happens." Beadles has similar plans, preparing for the NFL draft and continuing on with football or putting his Mechanical Engineering degree to good use.
Though they will be moving on, the seniors will never really leave Utah behind. ""I've just made a lot of great friends that I am really thankful for," Misi said. "I've learned a lot as a player and I've had a great experience here."