We recently had the opportunity to ask three Belk Bowl alumni playing in the NFL about their experiences in Charlotte. Below we have transcribed our interviews with these all-time great players.
Like many before him, former Mississippi State quarterback, Dak Prescott, played his final collegiate game in the Belk Bowl. Prescott led the Bulldogs to a decisive victory over North Carolina State 51-28, and he earned the Jerry Richardson Most Valuable Player trophy, convincingly showing that he knows exactly how to finish a game.
In 2016 he set multiple Belk Bowl records, including Most Net Yards Gained (47 yards rushing, 380 yards passing), Most Passing Yards (380) and Most Total Touchdowns (4), as Mississippi State accrued a bowl-record 569 net yards.
Dak is starting at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys (10-1), leading the team to their best start in franchise history, and he is a strong contender for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. One could say he’s the hottest thing since the Mannequin Challenge. Despite his busy schedule, Dak graciously took time to reminisce about his Belk Bowl experience and what it meant personally to him:
Q: Did you ride in the race cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway? Describe the experience, were you afraid given your pending NFL career and would you do it again?
A: “It was fun and a pretty cool experience. That day it rained, so they didn’t allow us to use the real cars on the track – we were in regular cars but to be on the track and realize how fast they go is pretty cool. I would do it again if I had the opportunity to ride in one of the real race cars.”
Q: What was the highlight of your Bowl experience?
A: “The game itself. It was great to be with my teammates in that amazing atmosphere in Charlotte. It was a good win, and a great way to finish-off my college career.”
Q: Did you go on the visit to the Children’s Hospital or to the Food Bank and if so, what did you take away from those experiences especially during the holiday season?
A: “I went to the Children’s Hospital and it was a very memorable experience. It was a great way for us to give back and it was a blessing to me to be able to see those kids and how happy they were despite their situation.”
Q: The Belk Bowl was your last college game, can you describe what that meant to you?
A: “It meant everything – the way we finished, the fun we had as a team during the week, the hospitality the Belk Bowl provided us all throughout the week to make it the best experience possible. To walk off that field for the last time as a Bulldog was unbelievable.
Q: You were named MVP of the Belk Bowl, as a senior and team captain, how did that make you feel?
A: “It was fun to finish and get that win with my college teammates and representing the University with that group of guys.”
Q: How important is it for players to participate in post-season bowl games and why?
A: “It’s very important. That is the goal of every college football player to make a bowl game and it’s fun to get away and play football in another place.”
Another Belk Bowl alumni who has found success in the NFL is Tre Boston, starting safety for the Carolina Panthers. Tre, a four-year starter with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, snatched an interception late in the 2013 Belk Bowl that defeated Cincinnati 39-17. In an interesting twist of fate, Boston ended his college career battling a Cincy program to which he first committed as high school senior.
Playing in his last college game was a symbolic reward and a moment he cherishes. He explains, “to make that play as the game was ending and walk off that field with the ball in hand and then ultimately be drafted by the team that plays in that very stadium, well it was a dream come true.”
Q: What activities during Bowl Week did you especially enjoy?
A: “Well, being my last game, it felt like home being just down the road from Chapel Hill. We had a great time all week. The Nascar Hall of Fame was fun to visit and the “Need for Speed’ at the race track was cool and no, I wasn’t scared, I trusted that I would be taken care of!”
Q: It was your last game, how did that make you feel?
A: “It was special, for sure. I played four years for Carolina and they were great times. Then to make the interception, well I kept that ball.”
Q: Did you have fun shopping at the Belk team Shopping Spree?
A: “Oh right, I almost forget about that. It was lots of fun being with the guys hanging out at the mall, relaxing and a great getaway during the week. Everything was extra nice and a very positive experience for me.”
Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley played in the 2014 Belk Bowl against Louisville, and finished the game with four receptions for 80 yards (including a 44 yard touchdown). Conley now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Q: How important is it to players to participate in a post-season bowl game and why?
A: “It’s a great opportunity for teams to get one more game in. For underclassmen you get a chance to get a leg-up on next year and for seniors you can go out with a win and also prepare for the next level.”
Q: I believe you were a senior when you played in the Belk Bowl making that your last college game. How important was that to you as well as the other seniors?
A: “Being a senior and playing in a bowl game is huge. Being a player in the Belk Bowl brings a lot of eyes. You are playing in an NFL city so there will be NFL eyes on you. It’s great to play in that kind of environment and city and to get some good tape for those teams to see.
Q: Did you ride in the cars at the Speedway and if so, describe what it was like?
A: “Yes I did! I’ll say that was an experience, going that fast – it’s different. It’s something I’ve never experienced before and I would encourage people if they’re not afraid of high speeds and being really close to the wall to go try out.”
Q: What did you enjoy most during Bowl Week?
A: “The shopping spree most definitely, because I had an opportunity to buy some gifts for family and it has been awhile since we’ve had the ability to do that. Typically when I was at Georgia we played our bowl games January 1st so I didn’t have an opportunity to do a lot of holiday shipping. It was a great break after practice to spend some time and some money on other people.
Q: Did you do the Children’s’ Hospital visit or Food Bank and if so, how meaningful was that for the participants?
A: I did the Children’s’ Hospital visit. It’s awesome to be able to put smiles on kids’ faces and spend a little time outside of yourself. Even in that situation when you’re out there to win a game, to be able to step back and remember the reason for the season and remember that spending some time on other people is definitely worth it.
Q: Do you see a good rivalry developing between the ACC and SEC due to the Belk Bowl?
A: You know the Belk Bowl can possibly become a rivalry. Those two conferences being right next to each other…. so if they were to have a rivalry between the SEC and the ACC. The players are often from the same home towns and those schools have a lot of pride – so if this was a rivalry game, I feel like it would be much anticipated every year and a lot of people would watch and enjoy it.”
By: Helen Sowell