They say you never forget your first time.
The University of Nevada football team’s arrival at the New Orleans Riverside Hilton on Tuesday marked the beginning of Brian Polian’s first bowl week as a head coach and he said that he will enjoy everything that comes with his first postseason game as head man of the Wolf Pack.
“I’m looking forward to the experience,” said Polian, the son of former Vice Chairman of the Indianapolis Colts Bill Polian. “I’ve got my family here, my kids and some friends of the family flying in for the game.
“I’m going to make sure I take a step back at some point and enjoy it because you only have these ‘firsts’ in your career once.”
Polian also said that he won’t be the only one enjoying new experiences in New Orleans this week.
“Maybe less than 10 guys out of our 100 have been to New Orleans before,” Polian said. “I know they’re excited and I know this is not a normal bowl stop for the Mountain West, so I feel fortunate and blessed that we’re the team that gets to enjoy it this year. They’re excited to get out there and see it a little bit.”
The second-year coach went through a rebuilding year during his inaugural season in Reno and missed out on postseason play, but he leads a strong 7-5 team into Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against an 8-4 University of Louisiana-Lafayette that has ended their last three seasons with a New Orleans Bowl victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Polian said that the major message he wants to send to his players throughout the week is making sure they balance their good times in the Big Easy with the necessary focus it will take to beat a formidable Ragin’ Cajuns team.
“We have to balance the bowl experience with our preparation to win the game,” Polian said. “This is a great opponent, they’ve won this game for three straight years and it will be a semi-home game for them. We have to go in there and play a great game if we plan on winning.”
Senior quarterback Cody Fajardo leads the Wolf Pack and he says that, while he will enjoy his time in New Orleans, his main focus will be getting his team to experience something else a vast majority of them have never experienced: a bowl victory.
While last year was the first time Nevada hasn’t made it to a postseason game since 2005, the Wolf Pack lost in six of their last seven bowl appearances and haven’t won one since 2010.
“This is a business trip for us,” Fajardo said. “I know this senior class is looking for our first bowl win. Obviously, we won in 2010, but most of us weren’t playing on that team. It would be a much better bowl experience if we were able to leave here with the win.”
While Polian wants his team focused on the win, he said that he learned from an old friend that letting the players have one night of fun out in New Orleans should be a good thing for them.
“I took a lesson from one of my mentors (Texas A&M head coach) Kevin Sumlin,” Polian said. “We will have a night when they’re allowed to stay out a little bit later than they normally would. I want them to enjoy seeing the city, but also be safe.”