Heart Of Dallas Bowl Notebook: Somewhere In The DFW Metroplex

Heart Of Dallas Bowl Notebook: Somewhere In The DFW Metroplex 

The Ford Center at the Star is the new practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys, but it is much more than just a couple grass and turf fields.

It’s a hotel, restaurant, shopping and convention city of its own rising out of what used to be the scrubgrass of Frisco, which is about 45 minutes north of downtown Dallas.

Where else can you buy sushi and a Lincoln Navigator in the same store?

And for one day, the sparkling, new practice facility of the Cowboys also served as the workout site of the Mountaineer football team.

West Virginia is Texas for Tuesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl against Utah. And WVU was scheduled to practice at Highland Park High School, which is only about 15 minutes from the downtown area where the Mountaineers are staying this week. But Highland Park’s football teams was still using its own practice space on Friday, as the Scots were playing Manvel this weekend in the Texas 5A Division 1 state championship that night. Highland Park not only has nice outdoor fields but its own indoor practice building that is comparable to WVU’s Caperton IPF. Only in the Lone Star State do high football programs have their own indoor practice facility, but when you’ve produced players from Doak Walker and Bobby Layne to Matthew Stafford and even baseball’s Clayton Kershaw, you get facilities like that.

The Mountaineers moved back to Highland Park for practice on Saturday, but on Friday, they were in the complex that Jerry built.

With Highland Park not available on Friday, WVU was left scrambling in its search for a practice site. Fortunately after a call to a Cowboy scout who regularly visits West Virginia, the Mountaineers were able to lineup practice time Friday afternoon at the 12,000-seat Ford Center, which is 36 miles north of the Cowboys’ game-day home of AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

One nice thing for all involved is that the Ford Center, which is not only used by the Cowboys but also regularly entertains high school football games as well as concerts and a variety of other events, is it is indoors. Thus Friday’s cold, rainy weather (38 degree high) didn’t phase anyone inside the building.

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A few of those inside the Ford Center won’t be participating in Tuesday’s bowl game, but still were working out.

WVU will be without three offensive starters against Utah, as quarterback Will Grier (hand injury), offensive guard Kyle Bosch (knee injury) and running back Justin Crawford (decided to forego his final college game to focus on NFL preparations) will not play against Utah.

Crawford and Bosch are not with the team in Texas, though Grier, who announced recently that he will return to WVU in 2018 for his senior season, is in attendance. While his surgically-repair right hand is no longer encased in a brace, the junior QB did not participate in any throwing work Friday. He did do some conditioning, though, running from sideline to sideline for a lengthy period with strength coach Mike Joseph.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Brendan Ferns (shoulder injury) and senior placekicker Mike Molina (hip injury) also were getting in considerable conditioning work, running countless laps around the field. Neither is expect to play Tuesday, though.

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By the way, Highland Park’s football team overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 6:27 to earn its second-straight UIL championship Friday night.

Before a crowd of 25,975 at AT&T Stadium, John Stephen Jones, the grandson of the stadium’s owner, led the Scots to a dramatic 53-49 victory over Manvel (15-1).

Though just 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, the younger Jones is such a playmaker that the high school senior has offers from SMU, Texas Tech and grandpa Jerry’s alma maker, Arkansas. John Stephen did not sign during the recent early National Letter of Intent period, though 99 high school players from the DFW area did sign with FBS programs this week.

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The Mountaineer players participated in a welcome dinner on Friday night with their future opponents from Utah.

Not only were the teams feted to with an incredible buffet, but they also participated in some friendly competition, including an edition of “Family Feud.” West Virginia native Steve Harvey, who hosts the TV version of “Family Feud” now, was not in attendance unfortunately.

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West Virginia’s players also got a chance to go through the Heart of Dallas gift suite shortly after their arrival. There they could pick from a variety of items that could total to no more than the NCAA maximum of $550.

The White brothers, Ka’Raun and Kyzir, chuckled that they have the same taste. Each picked a dual-function gas grill and smoker. Both also ordered an Echo-style wireless speaker/digital assistant.

The players don’t have to lug all their items back to West Virginia themselves after the bowl game. All the gifts will be delivered in mid-January.

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A few members of WVU’s advance party arrived in Dallas earlier in the week to set up all the needs of a football team for the days ahead. The players and coaches flew in on Thursday, and then staff/coach families and others followed on a charter flight Friday morning.

While the Mountaineer players were practicing at The Star on Friday, the families who arrived that day quickly spread out to the various spots in downtown Dallas, visiting the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which is chronicles the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 at that site, as well as the nearby Holocaust Museum and the Dallas World Aquarium. Eventually that night, they filtered out to the Spaghetti Warehouse, Ellen’s Southern Kitchen, Pecan Lodge and other local eateries.

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It’s a small world.

Since I have to spend Christmas in Dallas to cover the bowl, my wife and daughter came with me to Texas.

We flew from Pittsburgh to DFW on Wednesday night, and after getting off the plane and securing our rental car, we started the 30-minute drive to our hotel in downtown Dallas at about 10:30 p.m.

Having not eaten since lunch – if you don’t count the tiny bag of airline pretzels – and not knowing food options at that hour at our hotel, we decided to stop for a quick bite along the way.

Since my wife and daughter had not been to Texas before, I thought it appropriate to treat them to a Lone Star icon – Whataburger. Now, not being a Texan, I find Whataburger vastly overrated. It’s not bad, mind you – reminds me of Wendy’s with skinner French fries and slower service – but doesn’t reach the levels of fast food elite that those from this area contend.

Anyway, I spot a Whataburger along the tangle of interstates that lead us towards downtown. A quick exit allows me to pull into the parking lot of the unique orange and white restaurant. Amidst a group of hockey fans headed home from a Dallas Stars game at the nearby American Airline Center strides a woman with a WVU volleyball sweatshirt.

Well, I have to strike up a conversation with her, and it turns out that she is Taylor Cross, who is a senior for the Mountaineer volleyball team. Though a native of Colorado Springs, she is in Dallas with her father and also just happened to stop in for a not-all-that-quick burger.

West Virginians are everywhere, even late at night at a random Whataburger somewhere near downtown Dallas.