Teams go through final preparations for Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Buffalo and Charlotte each had their final practice of the season and met with the media at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on Thursday in preparation for tomorrow’s Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl.

The game is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST on ESPN.

Hearing from both head coaches and student-athletes from each team, one thing is obvious about their experience so far: bowl games are better in the Bahamas.

"First off, I don’t know how you ever top this trip," Charlotte head coach Will Healy said. "To think about it from our perspective, your first ever bowl game, having the opportunity to go to the Bahamas and spend five days at Atlantis, it’s been everything I could hope it would be and more. Just to be able to walk around our hotel and see the smiles on these guys’ faces, to watch them enjoy what this bowl game has to offer, it’s a first-class event. We’ve had a blast. We understand there’s still a football game to be played, but the whole experience has been amazing."

Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold is already getting pressured to make another trip to the Bahamas.

“When you watch your families have the experiences that they’ve never seen, to see this country for what it has and presents," he said. "I know for our family, we’ve never been here, and my wife is already talking about when the return trip is going to be made and how soon. It’s weather, it’s the scenery, it’s the beach. Just like everything we want to do in our program, it’s really about people, and your hospitality has been second to none."

Each team completed their final preparations as the squads focus in on tomorrow's game.

"When it’s time to lock in, I expect you to be professional enough and mature enough to lock in," Healy said. "We say act like a man, I’ll treat you like a man; act like a child, I’ll treat you like a child. These guys have been very mature about how they’ve handled this entire week. We had a great practice this morning."

Both Buffalo and Charlotte are searching for the first bowl win in their program's history. The Bulls are winless in three trips, while the 49ers are making their bowl debut.

“Especially being a senior, it’s been something we’ve talked about a lot – going out and being the first senior class to get the first-ever bowl win in school history," Buffalo linebacker Matt Otwinowski said. "I think it’s just a credit to how everyone has prepared the past couple weeks. People have been watching a lot of film, putting in a lot of extra time. I think that we’re really prepared as a team right now to win a game.”

 

“We’ve talked about it a lot because there’s a lot of things in a program, and really, this is such a special matchup," Leipold agreed. "You have two young FBS football programs playing here in this game, and there’s a lot of firsts that could happen. I think that adds a lot of extra, I would say, value to the game and meaningfulness to this game."  

The win is equally important for Charlotte, who wants to cap off the season with one more trip to Club Lit for a post-win celebration.

“Club Lit is crazy. It’s lit. It’s gotten better and better each win," Charlotte lineman Cam Clark said. "The first win, we’re in there, the lights were on and everything. Comparing that to our last home win versus Marshall, Marshall was crazy...We didn’t come down here just to have fun. We came out here to win a game. That’s our focus. We’re focused in on tomorrow.”

 

BUFFALO QUOTES

 

Head Coach Lance Leipold
Opening Statement…
“Thank you very much for an outstanding experience for our players, first and foremost, through the people of the Bahamas, the hospitality, the welcomeness to our players, to our fans, to our staff members. Mayor, thank you for the people of Makers Wanted for their sponsorship and making this truly an experience of a lifetime for our student athletes. Lea, Richard, the people of the Bahamas Bowl, and everyone that influences things, this has definitely been one of those things in your life that you kind of hoped you’d have a chance to experience, and it’s lived up to everything you could dream of and then some, so thank you. It’s been a great week, I think, for our fellas to have a chance to be at the resort, see things, but now we’re getting closer to kickoff and kind of getting back into that game mode. This team has worked extremely hard all season. There’s a lot of things from the beginning of our season to where this group has evolved now that’s made it very fulfilling and rewarding to put us in a position that we won five our last six. Holistically, you can see the way we’ve been able to play. Two of these young men who are here with me have been big components of that. (We’re) playing a fine Charlotte team that’s a hot football team with many outstanding players.

On Matt Otwinowski and Jaret Patterson…
“Matt Otwinowski is a four-year senior for us. He’s been an outstanding young man in our program as far as everything off the field you’d look for in a student athlete. He’ll graduate here in May. If you have had a chance to read up on Matt off the field, he was a stem-cell donor last spring for Be a Match program. He was truly a life saver. That kind of just shows his unselfishness and the type of player that he’s been in our program. He’s a lead on the field, plays middle linebacker position, makes all the calls and checks. He’s been everything and then some of what we want in a student athlete in our program. To his left is Jaret Patterson. In his second season rushed for over 2,000 yards. He’s had 11 touchdowns in the last two games. Jaret and his twin brother James are captains in our program as sophomores. It says a lot about their character, their work ethic, and how they go about it. You’re looking at two young men that everything they go about in being an athlete, being a student, or a representative is what we’re looking for in today’s college athlete. I couldn’t be more pleased to have them sitting here with me.”

On the best part about being in the Bahamas…
“When you watch your families have the experiences that they’ve never seen, to see this country for what it has and presents. I know for our family, we’ve never been here, and my wife is already talking about when the return trip is going to be made and how soon. It’s weather, it’s the scenery, it’s the beach. Just like everything we want to do in our program, it’s really about people, and your hospitality has been second to none.

On bringing home the team’s first bowl win…
“We’ve talked about it a lot because there’s a lot of things in a program, and really, this is such a special matchup. You have two young FBS football programs playing here in this game, and there’s a lot of firsts that could happen. I think that adds a lot of extra, I would say, value to the game and meaningfulness to this game. There’s a lot of things we can do as a program and different things you can either match what someone’s done before. But when you have a chance to do something that no one else will be able to say, you’re the first team to win the bowl game, those are lifelong memories.”

On what concerns him about Charlotte…
“Holistically, when you see what coach (Will) Healy has done you can see a team that plays with a lot of energy. They’re well coached, and the effort level from top to bottom is something that stands out. I’m a firm believer in that, as well. If you play hard, good things will happen. You could see that when they play. Their defensive ends are special players. They’ve had great years. They cause a lot of havoc on that side of the ball, and the others kind of feed off that. They play well together. Their quarterback, (Chris) Reynolds, they do a lot with him to get him out of the pocket. There’s not consistent launch points that you’re looking for. He can deliver the ball from all different arm angles, and he can run the ball. So you got to count for him. One thing about not playing for a couple weeks, making sure you’re fundamentally sound and containing the quarterback and tackling well and doing those things will be very important. The running back is excellent – had a great year. So the balance of what they have has been impressive. The receiving corps have speed and quickness but also have some good length and physicality to them. They’re a complete. In these games you have to play well. You have to win the field position battles, those types of things, not beat yourself. We talked a little bit about last year’s game. We played in Mobile last year. We uncharacteristically turned the ball over and some things. Those are some things we’ve tried to emphasize with the layoff.”

On whether or not Jaret Patterson and Benny LeMay are similar running backs…
“I think so. I haven’t had a chance to put eyes on him on the field. Highly productive. Physical. Can take the hits. Make people miss. Both have outstanding balance, and, of course, both have had excellent years. There’s probably a lot of similarities there. I’m sure they feel the same way about him that we feel about Jaret.”

Senior Linebacker Matt Otwinowski
On the best part of being in the Bahamas…
“I think just being here with the nice weather down here with all of our teammates – everyone together and families coming down now – being able to experience the whole atmosphere together as a big family.”

On trying to bring home the team’s first bowl victory…
“Especially being a senior, it’s been something we’ve talked about a lot – going out and being the first senior class to get the first-ever bowl win in school history. I think it’s just  a credit to how everyone has prepared the past couple weeks. People have been watching a lot of film, putting in a lot of extra time. I think that we’re really prepared as a team right now to win a game.”

On the defense’s biggest focus…
“It comes down to us and defense doing our job. Like coach said, they have a running back, a quarterback that can make plays. They play hard. But it’s ultimately about us and everyone playing hard and doing our job and sticking to what we’ve done all year.”

Sophomore Running Back Jaret Patterson
On the best part of being in the Bahamas…
“Mostly the weather. Being from Buffalo, it’s very cold. Just seeing the scenery here and the weather has been an amazing experience for me and my teammates.”

On trying to secure Buffalo’s first bowl win…
“To be the first team in school history to get their first bowl win I think is huge. As soon as we landed, that’s all I really thought about – sending these seniors off like Matt the right way. I’m just so ready to play the game tomorrow.”

On the offense’s focus heading into the game…
“They have two great D-ends that cause havoc. But like Matt said, we just have to focus on ourselves and do the small things right. Last bowl game, we turned the ball over. Just do the small things right to win the game.”

 

CHARLOTTE QUOTES

Head Coach Will Healy
Opening Statement…
“First off, I don’t know how you ever top this trip. To think about it from our perspective, your first ever bowl game, having the opportunity to go to the Bahamas and spend five days at Atlantis, it’s been everything I could hope it would be and more. Just to be able to walk around our hotel and see the smiles on these guys’ faces, to watch them enjoy what this bowl game has to offer, it’s a first-class event. We’ve had a blast. We understand there’s still a football game to be played, but the whole experience has been amazing. I want to thank everybody here, especially Richard and Lea for the hospitality we’ve seen in the Bahamas. Atlantis has been incredible, and now we’re excited about shifting our tone and getting ready for an outstanding Buffalo team. I saw the other day, they had a top 150 coaches of all-time list and Lance was 78. I don’t even know if I was on the top two million. Obviously they’re a tremendously well-coached football team that’s won five out of their last six. They’ve played really good football at the end of the year like we have. We’re excited about the opportunity, excited to give these two seniors to play in our first- ever bowl game and now set the standard and expectation for our football team.”

On Cam and Alex…
“You’ve got two guys here who are both fifth-year seniors. They had a lot of success well before I got there. Obviously I didn’t recruit them. I thought it was important to build a culture and a program, so I really needed the seniors to buy into what we were doing and how we were doing it. These two were really the first two to jump on board and push the message and buy into our program and our culture. Alex Highsmith was a school-start walk-on, they didn’t even invite him to camp. Next thing you know, he’s the first AP All-American in the history of Charlotte football. he had 14 sacks this year, second in the country in sacks. What he’s done has been tremendous. He’s a great football player, but he’s twice as good a person, and that’s talking about an AP All-American. I’m going to get him to loosen up with the mic a little bit, relax a little bit and let his personality show. He’s been so much fun to coach. I think it’s because of what I’ve been able to teach him from a pass-rush perspective, but I think he disagrees. Cam Clark, was a guy we knew coming back had a lot of hype about him. Both of these guys will have an opportunity to play at the next level. We’ve had almost 200 NFL scouts come through our building because of these two and some of our other guys. Cam’s been an all-conference, all-American caliber player the entire year. How about this, he’s going to play in his 49th collegiate football game tomorrow, fitting for us being the 49ers. Cam is a guy who has shattered every record and has created a new path. He will have an excellent career in the National Football League. He’s been kind of a vocal leader, he’s been able to push the message and guys listen when he speaks. I couldn’t imagine two better ones to be up here with me. I’ve loved being around them. I wish I had them seven more years because you could build an entire program around these two. Excellent football players, but again, even better football players.”

On shifting focus from the fun to the game…
“We’ve talked about it a bunch over the last two weeks. When it’s time to lock in, I expect you to be professional enough and mature enough to lock in. We say act like a man, I’ll treat you like a man; act like a child, I’ll treat you like a child. These guys have been very mature about how they’ve handled this entire week. We had a great practice this morning. I don’t know that I’ve ever practiced in wind like that before. I’m glad I’m not a kicker. I thought the way they locked in this morning was awesome. Really good execution, great energy, we had a really good morning. Last night in meetings they were locked in, they were ready to roll. I think they’re used to me, where when you’re working hard, let’s work really hard. When you’re playing hard, let’s play really hard, and that’s in all aspects. These guys have enjoyed this trip, I can assure you. I’ve never seen smiles on faces like I have with our guys walking around. I get this question a lot, tangent: ‘what does a bowl game like this mean to your players?’ So many people in the national media say there’s only the College Football Playoff. If you got one chance to walk through the lobby and look at our guys and talk to our guys, you will realize why they play bowl games besides the College Football Playoff. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for a lot of our guys. I hope it’s not, but the overwhelming odds say for some of them it will be the best trip they ever take in their life. They’ve locked in. They’ve been great. They’re mature. They’ve handled the situation extremely well. I said nobody’s going to have more fun than we have, and nobody’s going to lock in like we will, and they’ve done that”

On his ability to relax this week…
“I would say [my son] Eli has helped me relax a little bit considering it’s been all about the rapid river and nothing about Buffalo. Now I’ve got to lock back in. My number one concern was that the experience paid off. You worked really hard to get to this situation. If you don’t enjoy it, then why do you fight so hard for it? That was my number one thing, the experience. I felt confident enough in these guys that when it was time to bring them back in, they’d be ready to do it. They’re excited about another opportunity to play football, and I think that’s very important.”

On balancing fun and football…
“For me, the biggest thing about it was, with these seniors, I can feel a little bit more at peace. This is not where we want to be, it’s not where we’re going to be, but to be able to give them this experience before they leave makes me sleep a little bit easier. These guys, so much is going to change and they’re leaving it so much better for the people who are coming after them. They’re going to come back to our place in two or three years and say ‘I wish I had some of those things that they’re doing right now.’ But having this experience for them makes me feel a lot better, making sure they can leave on this type of experience. I know it’s been their goal since they got here. These guys have seen the good, the bad and the really ugly. They’ve had multiple one-win seasons. First winning season in school history, first-ever bowl game. They now leave a legacy where they’re the first to do it. We can only build from it, nobody can ever match that.”

Cam Clark, Redshirt Senior, Offensive Lineman
On the most memorable moment in the Bahamas so far…
“I would say being able to spend this time with my teammates at Atlantis. Being able to be outside of our normal element, we’re not in our locker room, we’re not in the field house. This is a brand new element for us. For all of us to be able to interact, especially the seniors, we couldn’t have a better bowl destination and we’re just blessed to be here.”

On creating history at Charlotte…
“We always knew that we could do it. We attacked this offseason like we never have before. It wasn’t a surprise when then success happened, it was more of a breakthrough. When we lost to FIU, me and Smitty were in the locker room crying. We were like, ‘this is about to change. We’re not about to go out like this.’ We came out against Western Kentucky and got back to the basics. We didn’t win that game but during the game we saw a different side of our team. Our defense, they showed a side that we hadn’t seen all year. They came out tenacious in the second half when we weren’t even in the game. Once we started playing for each other and got back to the basics, there was nothing that could stop us.”

On Club Lit…
“Club Lit is crazy. It’s lit. It’s gotten better and better each win. The first win, we’re in there, the lights were on and everything. Comparing that to our last home win versus Marshall, Marshall was crazy. It was standing room only.”

On finishing his college career in the Bahamas…
“It couldn’t have been a better destination. We’ve been talking about this since we were freshmen so this is really a dream come true. Our strength coach gave us our summer packet before the first summer. On it, it said ‘will you outwork them?’ and it had the logo of every team. At the bottom of it, it had the Conference USA championship and the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl. That’s been on my wall since we got it. I just crossed out the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl right before we left because we accomplished it. We did it. It’s not a miracle. We’ve put in the work. Our coaching staff came in and they worked extremely hard with us. It’s nice to just reap the benefit of all our hard work because we haven’t gotten to do that in the past.”

On the importance of winning the game…
“It would mean the world to us. That’s what we’re preparing for. We didn’t come down here just to have fun. We came out here to win a game. That’s our focus. We’re focused in on tomorrow. We’re going to put our best foot forward and play our brand of football.”

On changing the culture at Charlotte…
“I feel like the main focus of this senior class was to leave it better than we found it. That was definitely our main goal and I feel like we did that. Not just in the way we played but in the way we led the locker room, the relationships we built, the way we brought young guys along. It’s really been a beautiful thing to see just how close the seniors are with the younger guys. The older guys on the team, how we mentored everyone. It’s really a family, so to see it pay off like this and for us to all be close like this, Charlotte is definitely on the right track.”

Alex Highsmith, Redshirt Senior, Defensive End
On the most memorable moment in the Bahamas so far…
“Being able to spend this week at Atlantis with my brothers, that’s just been unforgettable. It’s been so amazing so far. For me, finally seeing some clear water has been awesome. I went to Clearwater Beach earlier in the year and I thought I was going to see clear water, but it wasn’t really clear. I finally got to see some clear water. The first thing when we got here was eat lunch, then didn’t even go back to the room, just went to the beach.”

On Club Lit…
“I still remember the first Club Lit. I came into the locker room and we were all jumping and cheering. Coach Healy comes in and takes his shirt off, and I was like ‘woah, this is crazy.’ I’ve never seen a team celebrate like this. It’s awesome that he wants us to celebrate success, I really love that. No matter how we win, we won, and he wants to celebrate that. He wants it to be the best when we do celebrate so we take that from practice all the way into the game and into Club Lit. That’s why we enjoy it after the game so much with Club Lit.”

On finishing his college career in the Bahamas…
“What a week and what a place to just enjoy our hard work that we’ve put in. It’s been awesome, the week’s been awesome. Me and Cam, when we got here, we just wanted to leave this place better than we found it. It feels good now that we’ve done that. We set a standard for what this program is going to be. This program is going to do even bigger and better things in the future. It feels cool to be part of the first bowl game in school history.”

On changing the culture at Charlotte…
“About midway through the season when things started changing, coach had us in this leadership council we were doing every week. You had all the senior captains in there, all the seniors, and a lot of young guys as well. We were reading some chapters of a book about leadership, doing an hour discussion about it. We talked about things like how to run a culture, how to make a culture. I think it’s definitely going to be passed on when this senior class leaves.”

--MAKERS WANTED BAHAMAS BOWL--

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