College Sports

Kansans get shot at bowl dreams

The dream for each of them was the same — to play big-time college football and experience everything that goes along with it.

So what if that dream found its roots in a basketball-crazy state?

"Kansas kids seem to fly under the radar when it comes to college football," said Texas Tech defensive end Daniel Howard, who played at Bishop Carroll and then Butler Community College. "Of course everybody knows about the Brown brothers, but for me it was always about somebody like (former Wichita Northwest player) Kamerion Wimbley. I've always wanted to be a great football player, to play at the highest level. There's no experience like playing in the Big 12."

Howard, who has 42 tackles and 10 sacks for the Red Raiders this season, is one of 76 players with Kansas ties that will participate in one of 34 bowl games played this season. Out of the 68 bowl teams, 33 have a player with Kansas ties on its roster, led by Troy and Oklahoma State with eight apiece.

Texas Tech will face Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday in San Antonio, the third straight bowl Howard has played in since coming to the Red Raiders after one year at Butler, following trips to the Gator Bowl in 2007 and the Cotton Bowl in 2008. His father, mother, stepfather and three brothers will all be watching him play his final collegiate game.

"I grew up a Kansas State fan, which has obviously changed," said Howard, who returned a fumble 82 yards for a touchdown in Tech's victory at Nebraska this season. "But being from Kansas, being from Wichita is still a huge part of who I am... when you get on a big stage like this you want to represent where you're from well. You want to shine."

Howard wouldn't comment on the firing of Texas Tech coach Mike Leach earlier Thursday, but he also wasn't the only local athlete dealing with bowl-game distractions. Wichita North and Butler product Zac Clark, a defensive lineman for Oregon, ended up on both the celebrity Web site and its offshoot television show on Wednesday after paparazzi were waiting outside of the Lawry's Beef Bowl, one of the many activities scheduled for the Ducks and Ohio State in Southern California leading up to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

Clark, smartly, didn't talk to the TMZ cameraman, instead giving them a smile and a wave and getting on the team bus.

"We were walking out and they just kind of rushed us and I wasn't sure what was going on," Clark said. "When I heard the stupid question he asked, I just got on the bus. It's been kind of a crazy week."

Clark's family, father Stevan, mother Patti and his three siblings, were all headed out to watch him play.

"Just being in LA the last couple of days, everything is starting to sink in," Clark said. "But it's not hard to remember that we're here for business.... Ohio State is staying right down the street."

And let's not forget about the bowl swag — the lucrative gift packages that the bowl games dole out to players.

Texas Christian offensive lineman Blaize Foltz of Rose Hill, whose 12-0 Horned Frogs will take on Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4 in Glendale, Ariz., had his choice of $300 worth of Sony products, Fossil and Trouneau watches and a laptop bag waiting for him when he touched down in the desert. Howard received an iPod Touch, Dr. Dre-designed headphones, Oakley sunglasses and a Fossil watch. Clark's take included a 19-inch flatscreen television with a built-in DVD player, a Fossil watch, a NewEra fitted cap and a laptop bag.

"You get here and it's kind of hard to explain, but they really do roll out the red carpet," Foltz said. "Everything is first-class... you should see our hotel, it's amazing. And then to think we still get to play a game? That's the best part of the whole deal."