EL PASO, Texas – During his five-year career at Florida State, Cole Minshew has traveled to some of the country’s major cities and played in some of college football’s iconic bowl games.
But he’d never seen anything quite like what awaited him here in El Paso.
Greeted first by Chihuahuan Desert, the Rio Grande River and the Franklin Mountains, Minshew and his Florida State teammates landed Thursday afternoon in West Texas, where they’ll meet Arizona State in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve (2 p.m., CBS).
For a team made up mostly of Floridians – including Minshew – the first sight at what looked like a sea of yellow terrain made quite the first impression.
“As soon as the plane got a little lower where we could see, me and (FSU linebacker) Amari (Gainer) both were just staring out the window,” said Minshew, adding that the furthest west he’d ever been previously was in Florida State’s trip to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., two years ago.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. It was really cool.”
Florida State’s lone Texan can say the same.
Junior defensive tackle Marvin Wilson hails from Houston, Texas, but had never before ventured toward El Paso.
Not that anyone could reasonably blame him. The drive from Tallahassee to Houston (710 miles) is shorter than the drive from Houston to El Paso (745 miles).
“The terrain of everything, seeing all these mountains, this is all new to me,” said Wilson, who suffered a season-ending injury last month but has remained close with his teammates. “I’ve never seen actual mountains before in my life.”
If the landscape and scenery weren’t enough, the Seminoles got an even bigger taste of the local flavor once they made their way into El Paso International Airport.
Walking through the airport concourse on their way to the team busses, the Seminoles walked through a Mexican folk dance party, were serenaded by a Mariachi band and were greeted by a pair of mascots – Tony the Tiger, the Sun Bowl’s namesake sponsor, and “Amigo Man,” which has served as the city’s official mascot since the 1970s.
Interim head coach Odell Haggins even donned a sombrero.
— Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl (@TonyTheTiger_SB) December 26, 2019
“That’s the good thing about bowl games,” Wilson said with a smile. “You see so many things you never thought would happen.”
The Seminoles have a full week of themed activities ahead, starting with a Thursday-night trip to Top Golf (think a bowling alley crossed with a driving range).
They’ll also make a stop at a cowboy bootmaker’s store, spend an afternoon with U.S. soldiers at nearby Fort Bliss and visit a full-size ranch about 20 miles outside of town.
“It’s a great feeling being back with the guys,” Wilson said, “to go play Top Golf, have some fun, make some memories that we’re going to remember 10 years from now.”
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) December 26, 2019
But the primary purpose for their visit, of course, is still the Sun Bowl.
The Seminoles, still at the dawn of the Mike Norvell Era, have one last bit of business before closing the books on their 2019 season. A win over Arizona State would ensure a winning season – FSU hasn’t had two consecutive sub-.500 campaigns since 1975-76 – would send the team’s seniors and departing juniors out as winners, and, perhaps most importantly, would allow the beloved Haggins to close his tenure as interim coach on a high note.
Sun Bowl practices start Friday morning at a local high school.
“You’ve just got to set your mind right and be in the moment,” Minshew said. “When it’s time to have fun, let’s have fun. But when it’s time to go to practice, you’ve got to lock in to practice like it’s in Tallahassee.
“Because practice doesn’t change. The only difference is we’re going to have a little fun in-between.”