When Fredi Knighten pulled up to his team’s hotel on Tuesday, it almost felt like a homecoming.
The Arkansas State senior reserve quarterback has deep family ties to New Orleans and he said he was more than excited for his team’s arrival in anticipation for Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
“My parents and a bunch of my family are from down here in New Orleans, so it’s great to be back,” Knighten said.
“Not a lot of my teammates have been able to come to the city before, so I’m just looking forward to showing them what it’s like and to get ready for our game Saturday.”
The Red Wolves (9-3), who have played in the GoDaddy Bowl each of the past four seasons, will be taking on the Louisiana Tech (8-4) in hopes of grabbing the team’s ninth consecutive win and Blake Anderson’s first bowl victory as coach at Arkansas State.
More than anything, Anderson said he was excited for his players to enjoy the bowl experience once again and the city of New Orleans.
“The fan base and the kids have waited for this, honestly, for a long time,” he said. “It became very clear to me that (when the season ended) a lot of people in Jonesboro wanted to end up here. For us to get to play down here this time, it’s a lot of excitement already built in.”
Louisiana Tech will arrive Wednesday, but coach Skip Holtz said earlier in the week that his team looks forward to its arrival in New Orleans and getting ready for Saturday’s game.
“Now that it is bowl week, I think there is a lot of energy and a lot of excitement,” he said in a release Monday. “I thought we had one of our best practices on both sides of the ball (Monday). We finished with a really spirited team period at the end.”
The Red Wolves earned a berth into the bowl in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mercedes-Benz Superdome along with much of Louisiana and other parts of the Gulf Coast.
Only five years into the game’s existence, the board members for the New Orleans Bowl decided to move the game to Lafayette, which was a daunting task in itself, but the results showed just how committed everyone involved was to keep the game alive.
“It was extremely important, because we were only in our fledgling years ... it could’ve easily folded if it weren’t for the work of the staff and the volunteers,” said Paul Valteau, chairman of the New Orleans Bowl.
“We had to completely recreate the game at a different location from the ground up ... we didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a tough time.”
Saturday will mark the 15th anniversary for the New Orleans Bowl and Billy Ferrante, the executive director of the bowl, said he’s excited with the way the city has embraced the game.
“I think we have an identity now in the New Orleans market and the New Orleans community,” Ferrante said. “Also, there has absolutely been a growth among schools and peer bowls in our reputation for the quality of the experience we provide for the student-athletes.
“We’ve come a long way, and we’re excited to see just how much we can continue to grow.”