Christmas with the Mountaineers


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

For the West Virginia football team, Christmas Day means practice in Charlotte.

The drawback of the Dec. 27 Meineke Car Care Bowl is that the Mountaineers will spend the holiday away from their families and working to prepare for North Carolina. It's a new experience for the players, who have been able to go home for Christmas the past several years as West Virginia played in five straight bowls after New Year's Day.

"It's the first Christmas in a long, long time that I'm not with my family," receiver Alric Arnett said. "But I'm here with my extended family."

The Mountaineers will still have fun. After practice Thursday, there is an organized outing to an arcade. There's also a team dinner planned and a Gong Show talent contest. Players spend so much time with each other and their coaches that they feel like a second family anyway.

"There are never awkward moments between us," nose guard Chris Neild said. "We're a real close, tight group and we always have fun together. It's definitely different for me and the other players, but I think we're all handling it well."

Head coach Bill Stewart said he was worried about players feeling homesick on Christmas, so he planned a special talk for Thursday's practice.

"I'm going to talk to the guys about how there are a whole lot of people away from home and they're not in Charlotte -- they're overseas doing a whole lot tougher thing than we're doing," Stewart told the Charleston Daily Mail. "We're just playing a football game and we'll represent the greatest state in the union in a football game. What the guys overseas are doing is representing the whole country. That's a whole lot bigger than a football game."