For an Afternoon, the Inmates Run the Asylum: It's a Zoo at the Poinsettia Bowl

Dec. 18, 2011

LA Tech Poinsettia Bowl Fan Guide | Watch the full report on LA Tech All-Access | Bowl Practice Photo Gallery | San Diego Zoo Photo Gallery

SAN DIEGO - The entire Louisiana Tech football team went on a recruiting trip here Sunday afternoon - to the world famous San Diego Zoo. Just ask the guys who saw the African elephant and the king cobras and the gorillas: couldn't some of these guys play?

"We're gonna have to work on that," recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Stan Eggen smiled and said.

"The rhino could play, I know," said All-Western Athletic Conference tackle Kris Cavitt after he and right guard Oscar Johnson watched two rhinos square off nose-to-nose. "Well, the rhino that won could play. They were going at it."

Funny these two guys would be interested in the rhinos: Cavitt is 6-2, 300 pounds and Johnson is 6-5, 350. Their job will be to push TCU around a bit when the Bulldogs and Horned Frogs meet Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CT in Qualcomm Stadium in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. The game will be aired on ESPN, ESPN Radio and the LA Tech Sports Network, where pregame begins at 6 p.m.

"I just saw a big snake that could chew a person up," said defensive tackle Philip Longino. "He could definitely be a linebacker for us."

"He opened real wide, this guy gave him a little mouse, and it slid right down his throat," said receiver Richie Casey of Homer, his face all scrunched up. "Gone."

It really is a jungle out here.

Hosted by the bowl committee, Sunday's zoo trip came after a morning practice at the quaint University of San Diego. The weather was cloudy and cool; the forecast rain didn't come. The current forecast is for temperatures in the high 50s for the next three days with rain Monday, mostly cloudy Tuesday and sun for game day Wednesday.



Players were at the zoo for about three hours Sunday, first being treated to a short skit with a sea lion in the outside amphitheater; then they were free to see anything from a panda to a polar bear, a giraffe or a bearcat, which you usually have to travel to either Asia or Ruston High to see. (They are bigger than you think. And with whiskers.)

Plus the guys had vouchers to grab a snack. Somebody said the chestnut-breasted partridge tasted especially fresh. Tacky. Some people. I swear.

Also, a $4.99 24-ounce Coke tasted just like the $1.25 Cokes in Ruston. And some of us were disappointed that there was no San Diego Chicken exhibit. (I mean, zoo? San Diego? Surely you'd think?)

Cavitt was a bit disappointed in one area. "I was really looking forward to seeing the lions and tigers," he said, "but they were just sitting around."

Good thing his buddy Johnson didn't have a rifle. The big guard from Mississippi loves to hunt, as do many of his teammates; Jackson Parish is short two wild hogs since Johnson moved to town last year from junior college. But why would a guy hunt wild hogs"

"Ever had any really good hog sausage?" Johnson answered.

So while the food was a bit pricey and you couldn't hunt - not even the familiar American Wood Duck - the zoo was otherwise top shelf. A BCS-type zoo. Hey, you can't see a guam rail or a black-capped lorry back home, or apes big as, well, apes. "Number One zoo I've ever been to," Longino said.

"It's so clean for being a zoo," said student equipment manager Matt Parker while eating with fellow equipment guys Josh Garmon and Jacob Hatten. They've had plenty to do this trip, but the equipment guy at the zoo has it much tougher. "Just think about all those cages to clean," Parker said.

As the team watched, a park employee rewarded a sea lion for kissing running back Hunter Lee. Cornerback Terry Carter was not as forward. 

"I don?t want a kiss," he said, backing up, when it was his turn to pet the sea lion. Linebacker Jay Dudley quickly pivoted and ran away the first time the sea lion gave him a head fake; he didn't stick around to give the sea lion a second try at smooching.

"It's pretty entertaining to see a guy like Dudley, who's supposed to be a tough guy, interact with the animals and soften up a bit" said offensive lineman Jordan Mills.

When it came his turn, receiver Quinton Patton wanted to know if the sea lion was a boy or a girl. Legitimate question.

Some people suggested that Tech brought its own exhibit to the zoo in Patton, the outgoing and extremely talkative junior who shook every hand, talked to every television camera and posed for every picture request with fans as the team made its way from the buses into the zoo.

"We saw a king cobra that was 13 feet long and was as big around as your forearm, like all the way down," said junior manager Gantt Graham, who ended the day by going with his family, in town from Ruston, to the San Diego vs. Baltimore Sunday Night in America NFL game at Qualcomm; Chargers running back Jacob Hester is married to Gantt's first cousin, so the families planned Christmas tonight in San Diego.

"This is a great trip," he said. "Who thought we'd get here after the way things started?"

The WAC champion Bulldogs were 1-4 Oct. 1 but have won their last seven and take an 8-4 record into Wednesday's game. They're also a 10-point underdog. But that's a familiar spot for this team, a bunch that's used to the zoo atmosphere, and 10-1 against the spread this season.

Tomorrow's trip: Seaworld. (Think I'll try the fish sandwich.)


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