2016 TaxSlayer Bowl: The week that was

Players, fans relished week in Jax leading up to big game

By David Benfield - Photojournalist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets walked out of Saturday's TaxSlayer Bowl with a 33-18 win over the Kentucky Wildcats.

Both teams arrived in Jacksonville early in the week for practice and were treated to tours of the area, including a visit to Naval Station Mayport, Wolfson Children's Hospital and pep rallies at the Jacksonville Landing.

The week started with a Wildcats practice at the University of North Florida where News4Jax had an opportunity to speak with Wildcat defensive back Chris Westry, from Orange Park, about his first bowl appearance and get a sense of their week ahead.

"This is good experience and a humbling experience as well," Allen said." I'm so familiar with the area, I can be, like, a tour guide."

The Yellow Jackets' arrival in Amelia Island on Tuesday gave afforded the chance to talk to head coach Paul Johnson regarding his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup.

“Looking forward to the game Saturday,” Johnson said. “I think they’re (Kentucky) playing very well towards the end of the year. Offensively, they’ve run the ball very well and they’ve been able to put together some scoring drives at the end when they need it.”

Georgia Tech defensive back, and Jacksonville local, Step Durham, told News4Jax that he was excited to finish out his college football career in front of a home crowd, but also said he wanted to make sure to keep everything in perspective.

“I don’t want to make this game bigger than it is,” Durham said. “Just go out there and be prepared for the game Saturday, and have a great game.”

Leading up to the bowl game Saturday teams were treated to a host of events, including spending time with members of the armed forces as both teams toured the USS New York and a helicopter squadron stationed at Mayport.

On Friday, players from both teams visited the Wolfson Children's Hospital to spend time with the children and reflect on the fact that there is more to life than football. One player called the visit a"humbling experience."

Early Friday afternoon, the TaxSlayer Bowl committee held a luncheon at the Hyatt downtown where former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and long-time volunteer Tom Shouvlin were honored and inducted. Shouvlin's son-in-law Thomas DiVita accepted the award and spoke on his behalf. 

PHOTOS: TaxSlayer Bowl | Players visit Wolfson Children's Hospital 

"There's no word to describe how honored the Shouvlin family is," DiVita said. "He was a selfless person and never met a stranger." 

Fans had an opportunity to show their team spirit Friday evening when the Jacksonville Landing played host to both teams pep rallies.

Kentucky fans are known to travel well and they certainly didn’t disappoint. They outnumbered Tech fans 3 to 1 at their respective pep rally.

The week of festivities wrapped up with the big game Saturday morning at EverBank Field. Frigid morning temperatures couldn't keep tailgaters away as they geared up for the matchup. 

Prior to kickoff, and at the half, fans were treated to high school marching bands, the Marine band and performances from the Wildcats' and Yellow Jackets’ marching bands.

For the fans and the teams, the week was an amazing experience. The players and coaches all said their week was extraordinary. In the end, Tech came out on top, but, win or lose, for the seniors, it was all about getting the most out of the trip and one last chance to suit up with their team.

Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.