BOCA RATON, Fla. - Temple's bowl preparations went in a new direction Friday when the Owls had their first practice in Florida in preparation for the Boca Raton Bowl against Toledo.
"It was an extremely hard-fought, tough practice and we are getting adjusted to the heat," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "I thought today was good for us."
The Owls (10-3) could set a school record for wins in a season Tuesday with a victory over Toledo (9-2). Rhule's team may not have bowl experience, but it is a veteran bunch.
Four years ago when the current seniors entered Temple, the Owls went 4-7 and 14 true freshmen saw game action.
This year has been a different story. Temple has had just three incoming freshmen see action - running backs Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner and safety Delvon Randall.
Armstead, who has battled a toe injury, has rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Gardner has averaged 21.9 yards on 14 kickoff returns and rushed for 184 yards and one TD.
Randall has 13 tackles and has appeared in all 13 games. The rest of his classmates will wait until next year.
"It's big because it means these kids have a chance to develop more academically and athletically," Rhule said of his freshmen redshirts this year.
Senior defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis never redshirted, appearing in the final six games during his freshman year. This season he developed into a first-team all-American Athletic Conference selection.
"Quite frankly, looking back, I probably wasn't ready truthfully, but the team needed me and I did my best to fill that role," he said.
Like Rhule, Ioannidis feels that not having to rush most of the freshmen this season has been a key.
"It will help the program down the line because we will have these players longer and each year the recruiting classes are getting better," Ioannidis said.
A year of redshirting helps ease the huge adjustment to college football. "You don't have the weight or strength in most cases, but it is also the mental aspect of the game that you aren't typically ready for as a freshman," Ioannidis said.
Like most players, redshirt freshman Ventell Bryant was disappointed when he was told last season that he would not be playing for the Owls.
But the wide receiver is an example of the benefits of a redshirt year. This season, Bryant has caught 37 passes for 521 yards and three touchdowns.
"It definitely helped me out," Bryant said of redshirting. "I gained about 15 pounds in the offseason, got more explosive off the line and stronger in the run game."
Bryant confessed to something he never thought he would have been saying a year ago.
"I am happy I sat out," he said. "Coach [Rhule] told me I would have a shot if I just take this redshirt year and work on the little things to get better, and it has paid off."
Ioannidis said what also has helped Temple's success this year is practicing against many of those hungry redshirt freshmen.
"They have helped our team on the scout team, giving us quality looks in practice," Ioannidis said. "So it will help the team tremendously in years to come."