By The Associated Press
BILOXI – No. 21-ranked Southern Miss arrived at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport early Sunday morning en route to the Hawaii Bowl.
Facing a nine-hour direct flight, the Golden Eagles (11-2) already had their game faces on, even though the match up with Nevada isn’t until Saturday.
“We’re ready,” Golden Eagles wide receiver Kelvin Bolden said. “Last year, we didn’t win our bowl game (St. Petersburg) and we want to remove that taste from our mouth. This year, we really believe we will finish 12-2 and end the year the right way. We want to add a bowl win with the Conference USA championship we won at Houston.
“We are excited to be playing in Hawaii and it will be a fun trip. I know our fans are not happy with the decision, but I hope they will be happy for us. The conference didn’t get us in the Liberty Bowl, but coach (Larry) Fedora did the next best thing for us. We are still the champs and that can not be taken away from us.”
The Southern Miss team flight arrived safely in Hawaii and the team spent its first day enjoying its new surroundings. A Waikiki Beach party barbeque was planned for Monday night
Fedora, who will coach his final game at Southern Miss before moving onto North Carolina, said the players have been upbeat since breaking bowl practice last weekend.
He said the last five workouts, including one on Saturday, felt like early August practices when the Golden Eagles set team goals of winning 10 games, the C-USA title and playing in a bowl game.
He did not apologize for taking the team, nearly 240 in all, including staff families, to Hawaii.
“I am ecstatic as to what we were able to accomplish as a football team,” Fedora said. “Many of these kids and coaches will never have the chance to play in Hawaii. If we could not get in the Liberty Bowl because of contract issues, Hawaii was the best for our kids,
“The Liberty Bowl was our goal, but we can not cry about it because it is what it is. We did not reach that goal, but we can go win No. 12. These kids are excited.”
‘Built to last’
Fedora said the players are dedicated to winning 12 games, not winning his final game as Southern Miss coach.
“I am proud of the players and this staff,” Fedora said. “This team was built to last and win a championship.”
The Golden Eagles will practice for three straight mornings beginning today at Aloha Stadium, the game site, then will hold a final walk-through Friday.