FIU and Toledo take to the field and the beach bash

After a night of fun and relaxation at the welcome reception, Toledo and Florida International University (FIU) each hit the practice field for the first time in The Bahamas on Tuesday morning in preparation for the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl.

For Toledo offensive coordinator Brian Wright, it was nice to get his offense back to the practice field.

“I thought we were real good at practice today. The energy was there,” said Wright. “We started off a little bit sluggish, after riding on a plane and the buses and the hotel, but once we got going I was happy with what we were able to get done.”

The Toledo Rockets head into Friday’s game with the 11th-ranked scoring offense in the nation, thanks in large part to three All-MAC (Mid-American Conference) wide receivers. Senior Cody Thompson and junior Diontae Johnson both earned First Team All-MAC honors, while senior Jon’Vea Johnson garnered Third Team All-MAC honors. The trio combined for 24 touchdown receptions and 1,866 receiving yards.

Junior offensive lineman Bryce Harris was a Second Team All-MAC selection, anchoring an offensive line that helped three Rockets rush for more than 500 yards. Like many of the players, Harris is preparing for the contest while also enjoying the Bahamian experience.

“The Atlantis resort is top notch – top of the line. It’s really nice to get away and be able to see the fish, and everything has been beautiful,” said Harris.

The FIU defense is led by redshirt junior linebacker Sage Lewis, who was named Conference USA First Team. Lewis led the Panthers with 126 tackles on the year, including 76 solo tackles.

One of the defensive backs tasked with stopping the Rockets receiving corps will be junior Stantley Thomas-Oliver III. He earned Conference USA Honorable Mention with one interception and tied Lewis for the team-high in pass break-ups with nine.

“They’re a very good team. They’re balanced. They can run the ball, they can pass the ball. They’ve got a lot of threats in the passing game,” said Thomas-Oliver III. “We’ve just got to play our football. We can’t let anything change us. We’ve got to play to our standard and just dominate.”

FIU defensive coordinator Brent Guy was also pleased with what he saw from the Panthers’ defense.

“It was pretty sharp and focused for the first time out, so it wasn’t bad. We got a lot of work done before we got here, so hopefully we’ll play well on Friday and give everyone a great game,” said Guy. “You’ve always got to create turnovers and win the turnover battle. We’ll have to win third downs and get off the field.”

The teams had another fun event, as they attended the annual Bahamas Bowl Beach Bash at the Lagoon and West Beach at Atlantis.

With the blue water of the Caribbean and a stunning sunset as a backdrop, several game stations were set up along the beach, including a basketball hoop, a volleyball court, a pickleball net and much more. Following a half hour of games, the teams enjoyed dinner before the signature event – the beach bash dance contest. A total of five members from each team participated, but in the end, FIU walked away with the trophy.

Toledo and FIU will have their final full practices this morning before a pair of community service events – a visit to Ranfurly Homes (1:30 p.m.) and a youth football clinic, sponsored by KFC (3:30 p.m.). The game itself is set for 12:30 p.m. at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on Friday.

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