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December 30, 2006

Finally in Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - More than 80 players set out Saturday with a common destination of the team hotel for the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Fort Lauderdale.

But Mother Nature played the role of a linebacker, blitzing most of the Rockies and Plains with snow and an ice storm that marched eastward all day long and caused numerous travel headaches.

By the end of the day, a majority of the players made it to the Fort Lauderdale Marriott North, and each one of them shared tales of bad turbulence, missed connections, canceled flights and overcoming the fear of flying for the first time.

"My flight out of Milwaukee this morning got canceled because of mechanical problems," receiver Nick Toon of Madison (Wis.) Middleton said.

"So I had to re-work the flight, and I ended up in West Palm Beach. Then the shuttle that was supposed to pick me up never showed up, and I ended up sharing a town car with a nice lady. We came down to Fort Lauderdale together and the driver dropped me off at the hotel. I got here a little late, but I'm here."

Receiver Drew Davis of Denver Montbello flew out of hard-hit Denver today, but he said the Denver International Airport was ready for the storm that dumped an additional foot of snow on top of 2 feet from last week. He made his flight without any problems and ended up making it to Fort Lauderdale around 1:30.

"It was a really, really long flight," Davis said. "But I made it in without any problems. I was really worried the weather would leave me stuck in Denver, and I wouldn't be able to make it."

Four-star linebacker Jordan Campbell of Norco, Calif., wasn't so lucky. His flight out of Ontario, Calif., was canceled because of weather affecting his connection, and he'll now arrive first thing on Sunday morning. Arthur Ray Jr. of Chicago Mount Carmel also had his early morning flight canceled because of weather, but he was scheduled to arrive in the early morning hours on Sunday.

For those that did make it in from West of the Mississippi, they experienced a bumpy ride as severe storms stretched out in advance of the winter storm.

"We were dropping a lot at one time, it was a quick drop," Plano (Texas) East linebacker and Texas commitment Keenan Robinson said. "My stomach dropped with the plane, and I kind of reached over and grabbed this woman's hand by accident. I pulled it away and she was with her boyfriend, so I don't think he liked that too much. It was just an accident, but that turbulence threw me around."

Others line four-star defensive lineman Antonio Jeremiah of Hilliard (Ohio) Darby experienced flying for the first time, and that alone was enough to cause concern. But he - and almost everybody else - made it, and now they're ready to put the travel problems behind them and gear up for the 7 p.m. EST kickoff Thursday at Lockhart Stadium.

"We're extremely pleased with how things are going so far," Gary Henderson, Offense-Defense's Director of Operations, said. "There's nothing you can do to control the weather, but the kids are here, they're excited about the week and we're ready to put on a first-class event for them."

After players arrived and checked into their hotel rooms, they were next outfitted with new Schutt helmets, shoulder pads, body pads and practice gear.

The East players were given metallic blue and black helmets and the East got metallic red and white helmets.

Following that the players gathered for the first time together as a group with Offense-Defense All-American Bowl Chairman Richard Whittier greeting the players and introducing them to the coaches at dinner. Following the dinner the teams broke up and met with their respective coaches for the first time.


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