One day, when they have jobs and families and mortgages, Old Dominion’s players will likely tell stories from this week.
They’ll reminisce about Thursday’s bus ride to play Tulsa in Monday’s Myrtle Beach Bowl. They’ll relive the team’s bowling outing, which was scheduled for Saturday evening. They’ll talk about the food they ate and the posh, beachfront hotel where they stayed.
But more than anything, they hope the stories are centered around a victory.
A win over the Golden Hurricane (6-6) would give ODU (6-6) its first winning season in five years. It would wrap up what athletic director Wood Selig called “definitely a Disney-type story” with an ending worthy of a feel-good movie script.
It would also provide a lasting, golden memory for the players taking the field for the final time as college athletes.
“It would mean everything just because of how much work we’ve put in, how much belief we’ve had the entire season and what we felt like we could accomplish,” linebacker Jordan Young, one of three sixth-year seniors on the team, said Saturday as palm trees waved in the breeze between him and the Atlantic Ocean. “We never lost faith throughout the season.”
It would have been hard to blame them if they did. After a 1-6 start that included three consecutive heartbreakers, the Monarchs rallied to win five straight, achieving bowl eligibility with a 56-34 win over Charlotte on the final day of the regular season.
They were rewarded with a trip south to mild weather and 10 extra practices.
Though ODU’s players have enjoyed a slew of bowl-week activities, they’ve kept their focus on football at the right times.
“We didn’t come here just to have fun at the bowl,” said junior cornerback Tre Hawkins. “We came here to win. It’s a business trip, so we came here to win.”
A victory would also establish second-year coach Ricky Rahne as a bit of a miracle worker. A former offensive coordinator at Penn State, Rahne inherited a team that went 1-11 in 2019, only to have the 2020 season — scheduled to be his debut as a head coach — canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rahne rejected the notion that his team’s unusual path to the postseason could catch on nationally when Monday’s game is broadcast on ESPN.
“There’s a story for everybody, and ours is a story of perseverance and hard work and what people who believe in each other and truly, genuinely care for each other can do when they work together,” Rahne said. “So that’s a pretty cool deal. But I think that nationally, especially when I get on social media and those sort of things, I think everybody’s wrapped up in their own stories.”
Young was a redshirt freshman when the Monarchs won the Bahamas Bowl in 2016, the program’s only other postseason appearance.
Going out with a win, he said, would make all the difference.
“For me, it’s my last game, so it’s that memory that I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Young said.
“Being in that moment, finishing 7-6, finishing as a champion, it’s a lot different story to tell your kids one day than finishing 6-7.”
As he prepared to take to the lanes Saturday, Young explained the increasingly common way he learned to bowl.
He played a video game.
Young’s limited bowling experience is mostly in the form of the Wii U, the physically interactive game.
“I feel like video games can teach you a lot of things if you approach it the right way,” Young said.
Not that it taught him everything. Young doesn’t stick his long fingers into the holes in a bowling ball.
“I’m afraid they’ll get stuck, so I kind of just throw the ball,” he said.
A working vacation
With the game at the front of their minds, ODU’s players have taken advantage of this week’s temperatures, which have reached the mid-70s at times.
In an odd way, it’s served as a reminder that it’s almost game day.
“It feels a lot realer being able to put my feet in the sand and have some fun with my teammates,” said junior defensive end Marcus Haynes.
Young, a Pennsylvania native, said it’s been the welcome kind of climate change.
“When we left (Norfolk), it was kind of freezing cold,” he said. “We got down here, we got to, like, 70, 75 degrees. I enjoyed it. It’s been an awesome experience just to be able to hang out outside, go on the beach, sand between your toes and things like that. It’s been awesome.”
Selig hopes to get many more ODU-related people to Myrtle Beach.
Figuring it’s an easy 5 1/2-hour drive from Norfolk for a game that doesn’t interfere with holiday plans, Selig said the school was looking to bring in 7,500-10,000 fans for the game.
“You don’t need to get on a plane,” Selig said. “You can hop in a car, hop in a van, take a bus. And I hope we do thousands and thousands.”
Rahne is coaching in his 11th bowl game, including his stops at Kansas State and Penn State. He’s coached in games from New York to Pasadena, California, to Jacksonville, Florida.
Not all of them got people to travel in droves.
“I’ve been in some situations before where we’re far away from where our fan base is, and it gets a little tough,” Rahne said. “So this is a great opportunity for us to show the nation what Monarch Nation’s all about.”
David Hall, email@example.com
Myrtle Beach Bowl
Old Dominion (6-6) vs. Tulsa (6-6), 2:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN