NEWPORT, R.I. — Before they dug into the renowned seaside clambake that launched the American Athletic Conference’s Media Days on Monday, the players were reminded how a few years back one of their prominent peers consumed so much lobster — It’s called a clambake, but any crustacean short of crawfish is liable to find itself atop the seaweed covering of heated stones — that he was unable to participate in the interview sessions the following day.
Tulane senior tackle Sean Donnelly needed no such cautioning. A native of Pelham, New York, who was All-New England at Trinity Pawling Academy, Donnelly has been to plenty of these.
Plus, at 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, he can handle a lot of food.
“Everything’s good, so you just got to go for it,” said Donnelly as he munched down on a lobster roll. “You do need to pace yourself a little though.
And if Donnelly plus defensive backs Sam Scofield, Darion Monroe and Lorenzo Doss — who are also representing Tulane in the Green Wave’s first time here — were still tempted to overindulge, Tulane Curtis Johnson is available to remind them what awaits the team when it reports for preseason drills next Monday.
“I’m going to let them in on a little secret about what to expect in the way of conditioning tests,” Johnson said. “So maybe they won’t eat too much.
“I really wish this wasn’t so close to reporting day. But our guys are smart enough to eat in moderation and still have an interesting experience.”
It’s unlikely the date will change.
During its earlier incarnation as the Big East and continuing as the AAC, this has always been the last of the FCS conferences’ media days.
And it’s gorgeous setting: a historic (founded in 1639) seaport best known for its mansions (the Vanderbilts and Astors summered here), sailing (the America’s Cup is headquartered here) and tennis (so is the sports hall of fame plus a major U.S, Open tune up tournament) has made it a favorite for national media types, TV executives, bowl representatives and other movers and shakers of college football, including College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock, who will speak here Tuesday.
Coaches often bring players who may not be biggest names on the team, but because deserve the reward of a trip to a place they’ve probably never visited before.
That’s the case at Cincinnati where Bearcats senior quarterback Munchie Legaux, who prepped at Karr, is here even though his playing status is uncertain because of a severe leg injury he suffered last season.
Johnson said he chose his four players not just because they were mainstays of the program, but because in Scofield and Donnelly’s cases, they were instrumental in helping Johnson and his staff take control of the program in 2012.
It’s certainly a contrast from the scene at Southeastern Conference Media Days where fans cram the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Alabama, beseeching coaches, players and anyone else they recognize to sign something.
The Grand Hyatt on Goat Island, where rooms are listed at $550 a night (The media is staying a much-less-expensive location nearby, albeit still on the beach), would never indulge such a mob scene.
And while the 14-team SEC has spread its media show to four days, the AAC, with only three fewer schools, will wrap things up Tuesday in about four hours.
“It can get pretty wild at Hoover,” said Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, who had first-hand experience during his time as the coach at Auburn. “I was kind of skeptical about what it would be like here, but it’s pretty interesting, especially for a country boy from Arkansas.”
For the Tulane contingent, it’s also a major contrast from the Conference USA media day, which most recently has been held at the DWF Marriott, meaning most of the participants never left the airport vicinity.
“We sure didn’t ever see much,” said Johnson, who is entering his third season.
In fact, one year the anticipated C-USA media attendance was so low that it was done via remote TV feeds from the campus sites.
No such chance of that happening with the AAC.
The league, which lost most of its football-playing membership to the ACC and Big Ten and sold its name to the nonfootball members who broke away to form a new conference last year, is no longer part of the top tier leagues who now control the playoff and next month are likely to receive separate NCAA governance provisions.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco has campaigned for his league to make it a Power Six, but so far, little attention is being paid by the other five.
Also, this is an opportunity to hold on to the league’s Big East roots, even though five of 11 members are now in the Central Time Zone.
Nearby Connecticut is the lone charter member of the Big East still in the AAC and for now the league is keeping its headquarters in Providence, about 20 miles from here.
The proximity to media partner ESPN is another reason why the event is here instead of a more-central location, although the AAC coaches aren’t getting the “car wash” treatment their SEC and Big Ten counterparts did.
“It’s all about building relationships,” AAC Director of Communications Chuck Sullivan said. “This is one of our best opportunities to do that.”
And besides, it’s a pretty good feed.
Just ask the players — when they don’t have a mouthful.