A chartered jet left Provo for Hawaii on Friday, Dec. 20, carrying around 75 BYU football players, 11 full-time coaches, family members and other football personnel on their way to attend the SoFi Hawaii Bowl game on Dec. 24.
BYU football has accepted an invitation to the 2019 SoFi Hawaii Bowl, which will be held at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. This means the football players get three more weeks of practice, one extra game and the opportunity to spend Christmas Eve with their families in Hawaii.
This also means there is a lot of work to do.
Behind the scenes, the football operations crew has been preparing for this game since long before the invitation was even extended. According to football operations director Jon Swift, they knew early on that BYU would be going to Hawaii if the team won enough games to qualify for a bowl game. Swift has been planning for the bowl game since early in the season — looking at possible airline charters, flying out to visit the bowl location and figuring out how many staff and personnel will be needed.
There are a lot of people from BYU who need to be in Hawaii in order to make the bowl game happen, and it’s not just those directly connected to football. Besides the team, the coaches, and their families, BYU has to fly out around 60 staff members including video personnel and sports medical and equipment staff — and that’s just the group that flies in a charter with the team.
There is also a team of 12 cheerleaders, a cheerleading coach and Cosmo, who travel commercially. There’s also a group of dining services personnel who arrive a day before the team to set up the hospitality suite.
The hospitality suite is a BYU bowl game tradition that started in 2009 when BYU went to the Las Vegas Bowl. According to BYU Dining Services director Dean Wright, the idea for the suite came about because the team was going to be in Las Vegas over a Sunday and the university wanted to make sure the players and their families had a wholesome place to gather.
“It seems to be part of the bowl experience, and the players are very grateful, so are their families and so are their coaches,” Wright said. “It’s a very neat experience.
The suite usually has a number of video games, card games and board games, along with snacks and treats provided by different vendors and by the university itself.
Wright said that they make a special effort to have a lot of BYU connected items, such as BYU Creamery ice cream and cougar tails. This is meant to remind the athletes that the university is thinking of them. The hope is to make the hospitality suite feel like a little bit of home.
Not everyone gets to participate in the festivities, though. According to head cheerleading coach Jocelyn Allan, the cheer team is on its own for food and activities throughout the week.
“We’re not included in all that stuff, but it’s OK because we get treated well and per diem is great. We get to make our own decisions on where we eat and things like that,” Allan said.
Allan said the cheerleaders are excited for the trip because of the opportunity it gives them to support the football team and to spend some time relaxing in Hawaii, even if that means missing out on some holiday time with their families.
“I think it’s a little bit difficult that we’re going to be traveling home on Christmas Eve, but they’re college kids, they’re just really excited to go and support the football team. They’re glad that the football team gets this opportunity,” Allan said.
This is a sentiment that’s shared by a lot of the football players, who, unlike the cheerleaders, are allowed to bring their wives and children on the trip.
Senior defensive back Austin Lee said that he’s excited to spend time bonding with the team and his family.
“You can’t take the bowl game for granted because someday it’s going to come to an end,” Lee said. “It gives us something to play for and to just be able to compete longer.”
Hawaii is a good place for BYU to have a bowl game because of the number of BYU fans living there, according to NCAA senior vice president of college sports programming and events Pete Derzis. Derzis extended the bowl game invitation to BYU after the Cougars beat Idaho State on Nov. 16.
“They (BYU) have a tremendous following, obviously, in the Hawaiian Islands, so it’s kind of a second home for a lot of their fans and alums that are living there,” Derzis said. “I don’t think there’s any great pressure in terms of bringing people. We expect them to have a very good, solid following like they always have had,” Derzis said.
One out of every 20 Hawaii residents is a Latter-day Saint.
This is the first time BYU has played in the Hawaii Bowl, which was started in 2002. The Cougars did play in the Aloha bowl, which preceded the Hawaii Bowl in Aloha Stadium, in 1992 against the University of Kansas.