B.J. Denker will spend his Christmas cruising down Candy Cane Lane — yes, it’s a real place this time of year — in his hometown of Torrance, Calif.
About an hour north in Palmdale, Calif., receiver David Richards will open a few gifts with his family and eat pizza on Christmas Eve.
And across the country in Philadelphia, safety Will Parks will gather with the rest of his family at his Aunt Marian’s house on Christmas Day and play card games like Pokeno and Pitty Pat and eat fried chicken, turkey and macaroni.
That’s right. A week before his team plays Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 31, UA coach Rich Rodriguez will let his players go home for a few days to spend the holidays with their families.
After practicing this morning, the Wildcats will scatter for three days and then meet in Shreveport on Friday for final bowl preparations.
“I always get nervous,” Rodriguez said of his tradition of letting his players go home for Christmas. “I do worry, ‘OK, we’re not going to practice for four days and they’re going to go home and eat all kinds of turkey and candy and gain 25 pounds.’ Some of the guys can afford to do that, but some on the O-line, I don’t think they can.
“We’ll see what happens.”
Rodriguez, who has led his teams to four bowl games on New Year’s Day and one on Jan. 2, has always tried to let his players decompress with a few days at home before the final game of the season.
This morning’s practice will mark the UA’s 10th in the last 11 days, which included practicing through finals. By now, the coach figures his guys know what they have to do to earn a win in Shreveport and trusts them enough to give them a few days with their families.
The time off came as a surprise to the players.
“I didn’t think we were going to get our Christmas when we had the bowl projections and four of the five bowls we were hearing were after Christmas,” Denker said. “I told my family that I wasn’t going to be home for Christmas. And then he surprised us with four or five days away and it’s nice. I know everyone, especially the guys that live far away, appreciate it.”
Rodriguez’s biggest concern with the days off is the travel.
At West Virginia and Michigan, a lot of his players were heading to and from cold weather cities where travel delays and cancellations were frequent. At least in Tucson, Rodriguez has far fewer weather concerns.
One of the only players that could encounter weather issues is Parks. The sophomore from Philadelphia will take off after practice today and change planes in Chicago. He’s expected to land in his hometown by around 10 p.m.
But Chicago is expecting snow today and there’s an 80 percent chance of rain in Philadelphia.
“It’s going to be pretty hectic,” the safety said. “But it’s nice to let us go home and collect ourselves and spend some time with the family and have a happy holiday. It’s good for us to get relaxed and get our bodies ready for the bowl game.”
Rodriguez said the time off has never backfired.
“I lost my first few bowl games and everyone said our schedule was screwed up,” said Rodriguez, whose teams are 3-4 in bowl games. “And then I kept the schedule and won the last few. So it’s just a matter of playing well and being better than the other team on that day. Our schedule, we’ve tweaked it a little bit, but it’s stayed pretty consistent.”
Not only will his players get some time off, but Rodriguez will also give his assistants a few days to be with their families. The coach won’t have to worry about any travel delays himself. His plan is to stay in Tucson with his family.
That’s quite a bit different than what his holiday breaks were like when he was growing up in Grant Town, W.Va.
“You could always get a little bit of snow there,” Rodriguez said of spending Christmas in West Virginia. “I was always so busy in sports over the holidays, but it was a time that the family got together. That’s the biggest thing for our guys. I’m glad we’re able to send them home to see their families.
“I haven’t been to Grant Town for a few years for the holidays, so I might have to make that up this summer.”