Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 | 2 a.m.
A voice in the lobby bellowed, “Welcome to paradise!” and while the Hyatt Regency Dallas may not be the destination that phrase brings to mind for most people, it feels that way to the UNLV football team.
Most of the players arrived Saturday to their home away from home for Wednesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl against North Texas at Cotton Bowl Stadium. Considering how important UNLV’s first bowl game since 2000 is to the players participating, they probably could have showed up at the Bates Motel feeling cheery.
“I’m excited to see what they have us doing,” offensive lineman Brett Boyko said of the bowl events this week.
UNLV and UNT both practiced Saturday afternoon and then met for a reception and their visit to the gift suite in the evening. Other events scheduled include a charity event, a kids’ camp and a trip to Sunday’s Dallas Stars hockey game.
That’s part of what’s ahead, but just getting here was an adventure for some Rebels, including Boyko.
In an effort to save money, UNLV decided to fly all of the players in commercially from wherever they spent Christmas break, instead of everyone traveling back to Las Vegas and then the team paying for a charter. That alone was a different experience for guys who are used to flying only with teammates and coaches in these situations.
“It was a little weird to be on the plane with a baby on the way to the game,” said quarterback Caleb Herring, who flew in from California with a couple of teammates.
Apart from the occasional crying, Herring’s seatmate traveled the same way most players do.
“I think she passed out when I passed out,” he said.
Boyko’s trip brought him from his home in Saskatchewan, Canada, more than 1,500 miles away. That’s probably the longest trek for any Rebel who stayed on the mainland, and it came with a close call at U.S. Customs.
Boyko flew from Saskatoon to Toronto, where he had a 2 1/2 hour layover before his flight to Dallas. The line at customs stretched on, Boyko said, and it took him two hours to get through. Just enough time to hop on his flight and be one of the first Rebels in town Friday night.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting but I made it,” Boyko said.
Now that they’re on the ground, the Rebels can get into something closer to a normal game week. However, there’s nothing normal about going more than a month in between games, as the Rebels will do after finishing the regular season on Nov. 30 with a 45-19 victory against San Diego State.
Linebacker Tim Hasson said it’s a similar mentality to fall camp, when the Rebels had weeks of practice before the season opener at Minnesota. A key difference is the players are used to that structure and that setting. This is new territory, and the challenge for UNLV when it practices at SMU’s facilities is to make sure it feels as urgent as those preseason repetitions.
“We all have got to flip that switch,” Hasson said.
As much as the players want to have fun and enjoy this working vacation, they also remember that losing isn’t fun. Hasson and Herring have spent a combined nine seasons at UNLV trying to get to their own version of paradise, and while photos and mementos will fit into their luggage there’s only one thing that would make this trip complete.
“The main goal is to win,” Herring said.