What they’re saying: Temple Football selected to play FIU in Gasparilla Bowl

WRITTEN BY: TOM HANSLIN  @tomhanslin

PHILADELPHIA – The last time Temple Football played a bowl game in Florida, the night sky opened up, the grass was marshy, and wet paint was smeared on every uniform.

This time around, the Owls won’t have to worry about the weather. It’ll be a pleasant 72 degrees and dry inside the dome at Tropicana Field.

It was announced on Sunday afternoon that Temple (6-6) will face Conference-USA team Florida International (8-4) in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida on Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. (ESPN). The Owls, who became bowl eligible with last week’s 43-22 road win over Tulsa, will play in a bowl for a third consecutive season for the first time in program history.

Before Temple was officially announced as a Gasparilla Bowl contestant, a report mentioned that the Owls were lined up to play in the Boca Raton Bowl for a second time in three years. Although American Athletic Conference teams are affiliated with both games, the earlier report turned out to be false.

“We are very excited to participate in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl and we are certainly looking forward to spending time in St. Petersburg to see all it has to offer,” Temple head coach Geoff Collins said in a press release. “FIU is a strong team and will represent Conference USA well. Butch Davis will have them ready to play so we have to go down there, enjoy ourselves at the great events that the Bowl committee puts on, but take care of business come game time.

“I’m really proud of our guys for the season they put together. For this senior class to be the winningest class in Temple history is quite an accomplishment. I’ve grown very close to this senior group. They know I love them and as my first group of seniors as a head coach, they know how much they mean to me and I will cherish the memories of this year always. I think we all would like to finish the season strong and win the game to send the seniors off the right way and give the returning players something to build upon in the spring. We have an incredible group of players coming back and the future is bright on Broad Street.”

On Sunday, a few Temple players spoke to the media at Edberg-Olson Hall. Below are some highlights from the interviews.

QB FRANK NUTILE (redshirt junior)

“I think it’s awesome. We kind of had a championship mindset the last four of five weeks of the season. Every game, we treated it like a championship. We really wanted to win it, to make sure these seniors went out as the winningest class in school history, and also to give them a bowl, which they deserve, for really building this program up.”

“We have a great group of younger guys. Obviously, we’re a developmental program. So, getting these guys an extra 15 practices and preparing for next year is huge. The young guys will really make the most of it, and they’ll be ready to contribute with all this extra work they’re getting.”

“I think it’s a pretty cool opportunity. Growing up, I always wanted to play Division I football and then play in a bowl game. So, I’m looking forward to the opportunity and the chance to play one more game with the seniors. I’m pumped up.”

DL JACOB MARTIN (senior)

“It’s a great feeling, that the team answered the challenge from the seniors. It was one of our goals at the beginning of the season to get to a bowl game and win that bowl game. So, another step, another game for us to play. And our motto is still the same: to go 1-0 this week.”

“Now, it’s what’s expected here. Kids coming from across the county, they expect to play in big-time games. They expect to play on TV. They expect to play in bowl games. Six wins isn’t easy to do in college football, and I’m proud of this team and how we’ve grown and how we’ve fought through adversity to get where we are.”

“I broke my foot in the conference championship game last year. I didn’t have a chance to play in the bowl game. It sucks, standing on the sideline, sitting on a scooter on the sideline, especially when you feel like you can impact the game. It was difficult for me last year. I’m excited. I can’t wait to play in this bowl and call it my last one with these guys.”

WR KEITH KIRKWOOD (senior)

“I believe in my team. I believe in my guys. I knew we would get it done. Can’t really think about what the outside world thinks about our program. I knew we were a winning team and that we could get the job done.”

“Whatever happened at the beginning of the season doesn’t matter. We’re focused on these upcoming weeks, to prepare going 1-0 every week, and then finally going 1-0 when the game comes.”

DL SHARIF FINCH (senior)

“It definitely means the world to me, having the opportunity to play in a bowl game my senior year. The last couple years, we got bowl games. Since I’ve been here, we weren’t able to seal the deal. So, being a part of the winningest class in school history and having the opportunity to leave with a bowl game and leave that as part of my legacy is definitely special to me.”

“It’s a new experience to the young guys, so they’re all excited. Our responsibility as seniors is to make sure that we go down there and they know it’s a business trip and we have a job to do. We want to come back with the Gasparilla trophy.”

OL LEON JOHNSON (redshirt senior)

“2015, when we played Toledo [32-17 loss in the Boca Raton Bowl], honestly, I think we were more happy to be there than ready to compete. The previous year – the 6-6 season – we were snubbed, and I think we were more excited to be there. 2016, we wanted to compete, but we just came up short [34-26 loss to Wake Forest in the Military Bowl]. This year, we’ve got all the experience necessary. We’ve been to a bowl game, we’ve been to another bowl game. So, this should be the one [to win].”

OL COLE BOOZER (redshirt senior)

“Right now, we’re the most winningest class in Temple history. I think it means a lot to me and the seniors, going from 3-5 to now – winning the last couple of games – to becoming 6-6 and becoming bowl eligible.”

DB SEAN CHANDLER (senior)

“You build a team off of things that you go through with each other. So, I feel like we’re definitely one of the most close-knit teams. It’s going to feel special having that last game with each other, definitely to go out with a win.”

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at thanslin@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.