Dec. 14, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There is one last final exam left on the schedule for the 2009 Florida State football team and the Seminoles began their cramming Monday morning on the practice field, following a two-week layoff.
Though the classroom work is completed, preparation is underway for the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl showdown against No. 18 West Virginia at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. It figures to be a historic moment in Florida State history on several fronts, not the least of which it will mark the final game of legendary coach Bobby Bowden. As a result, the ‘Noles figure to play in front of the largest crowd in the school’s history of bowl game appearances.
Bowden, however, is trying to downplay the significance of the event, which has already drawn media credential requests in excess of 300. When asked what he thought of his final game on the FSU sideline, Bowden offered very little.
“I don’t think about it too much,” Bowden said, following Monday’s 18-period practice. “I don’t want to think about it too much. I just want to go out there and play the best we can play. … I don’t want [the players] to go out and play for me. I want them to go out and play for themselves and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Seminoles (6-6) have plenty to play for, not the least of which is to send Bowden out with a victory to secure his 33rd consecutive winning season. FSU currently holds the longest active streak of bowl appearances at 28, which ranks third in NCAA history.
“A lot of people say there’s pressure, but we just want to go out there and execute,” said tailback Jermaine Thomas, a Jacksonville native. “We don’t want him to leave with a loss.”
Senior linebacker and defensive captain Dekoda Watson echoed Thomas’ comments.
“There’s going to be a lot of excitement and a lot of emotion,” Watson said.
Offensive captain and injured junior quarterback Christian Ponder said the ‘Noles are going to apologize for taking part in a high-level bowl game despite their 6-6 record.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity and I think with our team – our record doesn’t show it – but we’re a good team,” said Ponder. “I think we definitely deserve to be in this bowl game. We’re here to play and we don’t care what other people say.”
Ponder’s season-ending injury aside, the ‘Noles hope to be in a good physical shape heading into the game. They received a boost Monday when junior left guard Rodney Hudson not only returned to practice, but worked every snap with the first-team offense. Hudson missed the Maryland and Florida games with a knee sprain.
“I did everything I could do to get back,” said Hudson, who was winded but added he knee “felt good” after practicing for the first time in three weeks.
“You’re used to playing football every week,” Hudson added. “It feels good to get back out on the field and actually put it to work.”
Thomas is certainly happy to have the ACC’s most dominant blocker back in the fold.
“I’m excited because Rodney does what he does best and has the other guys follow him,” said Thomas, the team’s rushing leader. “He’s their leader. He opens holes up pretty good, so I’m happy to have him back.”
Many other ‘Noles are happy to have had the break they received since the Nov. 28 loss at Florida.
“A lot of guys got rested up,” said Watson. “The bodies are healing. … I think we came out here and had a good start. We were a little sloppy from the two weeks (off), but at the same time we’ve got time to study film and get ready for West Virginia.”
Bowden confirmed as much.
“They didn’t look bad for the first day back,” he said. “I thought they looked pretty good.”
Don’t expect the Seminoles, who will practice every day through Dec. 22 before taking a few days off, to deviate from Bowden’s tried-and-true bowl practice schedule.
“We have a practice schedule we have been going by for the last 25 years … and if we have good practices and go down there without any injuries, that’s all we can do,” Bowden said. “We’ve stayed pretty much with it because it has been so successful.”
Hudson earns All-American honor
Hudson missed the final two games, but his dominant season in the trenches for the Seminoles did not go unnoticed. This weekend he earned first-team All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America, one of the nation’s most esteemed postseason honors.
“It’s an honor,” said Hudson, who did not allow a sack all season and boasted a season average grade of 88 percent. “I’ve worked hard and I’m glad to see it pay off. I just need to keep practicing hard and working.”