It's been three years since the SMU Mustangs appeared in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and they are excited to be back.
"It's great to be back here," defensive coordinator Tom Mason said. "What a great place to go. What a great bowl game - it's one of the better bowl games I've ever been to. It's a great reward for these kids for finishing up their season strong."
It was a reward that came with winning its season finale against Conference USA champion Tulsa to finish with a 6-6 record. The Mustangs, like head coach June Jones, wishes to duplicate or even exceed their 2009 Hawaii Bowl victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack, 45-10.
[RELATED: VIDEO OF JUNE JONES PREVIEWING FRESNO STATE]
However, with the bowl game still four days away, Jones reminisced about a place he cherishes.
Jones was a celebrity in the Hawaii community from 1999-2007 when he transformed the Hawaii Warriors from a 0-12 football team in 1996 to an undefeated and BCS Bowl appearance in 2007.
"I miss my friends the most, that's the one thing I miss," Jones said. "But I get an opportunity to come back. I have a golf tournament in the summer and do Samoa medical missions so I get an opportunity to come back then. And if I'm lucky enough to play in the [Hawaii] Bowl then I get to come back this time too so I'm gonna stay a little while longer after."
Jones always makes it a point to take the team to the Pearl Harbor memorial and they also have a scheduled visit to Shriners Hospital for Children in Honolulu.
"June does a great job of developing these guys as young men," Mason said. "Pearl Harbor gives appreciation for the sacrifices that people have made for the country and teaches these kids that it's not all about them. Sports is one of those things where kids can easily get caught up in it's all about them instead of it's about the team, it's about your society [and] it's about acting like a responsible person."
The Hungry Margus Hunt
SMU senior defensive end Margus Hunt will play in his last collegiate football game of his career Monday night - but he has not thought about that yet.
"It's been such a rush and such a thrill the past four years that I never had time to think about stuff," Hunt said. "I don't want to think of it as being a huge burden on my shoulders.
"When I first started, I saw it a necessity to stay at SMU but with everything in my life, I take it seriously. I wanted to learn and that's what has gotten me here."
[RELATED: PHOTOS FROM THURSDAY'S PRACTICE IN HAWAII]
Hunt currently leads the team with six sacks and three blocked kicks.
"From a football standpoint, he puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback," defensive coordinator Tom Mason. "He puts a lot of pressure on the offense. They've got to account for him on all their blocking schemes. He's just beginning to develop into a great all around football player. When he really plays, he's a force. He's one of the better defensive ends in the nation."
Last week, Hunt received an invitation to play in the 2013 Senior Bowl on January 26 in Mobile, Alabama. He was the first invitee since Thomas Morestead in 2009 and the Mustangs 26th player ever to be selected.
"It's huge - having that kind of possibility, having that kind of exposure - that's a huge honor," Hunt said. "You go against the best and everyone's going to be there."
However, when asked about Hunt, head coach June Jones reflected on his entire career. Hunt came to SMU initially to work with the track and field team to prepare for the Olympics. But Hunt turned to football in his first year.
"His first year, he came to the Hawaii Bowl, that was his first year playing football and he just improved," Jones said.
Many NFL draft prospects will be at the Senior Bowl and Mason has high hopes for Hunt making the step to the next level.
"He could go anywhere from maybe 50th in the draft - if he has a great Senior Bowl, he could even go down in the top 20," Mason said. "That's a big deal for him."
Jones added, "I would anticipate that he would be a late-first round maybe second round pick this year."
But before Hunt thinks about the NFL draft, his first task is getting to Fresno State's quarterback, Derek Carr, in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl next week.
"I'm pretty hungry already," Hunt said. "It's been awhile. I'm ready to play.
"[I have thought about the NFL] not that much. I've been focused on football and the next game and after this is done then I'll have time to worry about that."
- The weather Thursday was in the high 70s - partly sunny and scattered showers.
- The showers came down mostly near the end of practice.
- There were trade winds blowing at about 10-20 mph.
- The practice was filled with many individual drills as well as team plays.
- The QBs were wearing blue jerseys. The offense wore red and the defense wore white.
- This was the first practice for SMU since coming out to Hawaii.
- There will be an official press conference for both teams Friday at 4pm CST at the Aloha Stadium.