Blankenship: Golden Hurricane playing for the 'true heroes'

By Brian Hilderbrand for www.armedforcesbowl.com

Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship is so pumped up about his team's association with the ninth annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl that he almost wishes he didn't have to leave the field at Gerald J. Ford Stadium during halftime of the game.

In fact, Blankenship has made a request of bowl officials that he rarely has made during his 25-year coaching career.

"They're going to do things at halftime and they're going to do things before the game," Blankenship said of the game that honors current and former members of the United States armed forces. "I've seen the agenda and it's really exciting. Very seldom do I, as a coach, want a tape (of the halftime activities); I want to know what was going on when we were inside. They've got some very neat things that they're doing for some of the soldiers that are coming back (from overseas deployment)."

While the Golden Hurricane and the BYU Cougars are making halftime adjustments in their respective locker rooms, bowl officials have a variety of events planned on the field, including the awarding of two houses to service members who have been wounded in America's war on terror.

It is the mission of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl that has Blankenship so excited about playing in this year's game.

"I think, with all of the connections there are in bowl games, this is the one that I think is really special for us," he said. "There are a lot of great sponsors out there that make great bowl games, but to do what the Armed Forces Bowl is doing -- and, certainly, Bell Helicopter is a big part of that deal -- they're making a very distinct, very focused mission of honoring the men and women that serve our country all over the world.

"To say we're excited (about playing in this game) is an understatement."

Blankenship said he has tried to impress upon his players the importance of supporting the "true heroes" of America.

Trey Watts, a sophomore running back for the Golden Hurricane, has received that message loud and clear.

"I think it means a lot for this program to be able to play for these military men and women because they do so much for this country that, a lot of times, probably gets overlook by a lot of people," Watts said. "They just mean so much to us that if we can just go out and play our hardest just to tell them 'thanks,' hopefully, that message comes across in the way we play."

Brian Hilderbrand is covering the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl for www.armedforcesbowl.com for the third consecutive year. Hilderbrand is a media consultant and freelance writer in Las Vegas after spending more than 30 years as a sports writer covering high school, collegiate and professional sports in Southern California and Nevada.