Football, parades and parties are on the lineup this weekend, as the annual GoDaddy Bowl gets set to kick off on Sunday night at 8 p.m. This marks the 16th year Ladd-Peebles Stadium has hosted a post-season showdown between college squads.

Previous contests have featured future NFL players such as Ben Roethlisberger, LaDainian Tomlinson and Byron Leftwich. This year’s rosters are full of their own stars.

The Toledo Rockets come in 8-4 overall and with a 7-1 record in the Mid-American Conference. This is the school’s second trip to the Mobile bowl, having beaten UTEP 45-13 in the 2005 contest.

At 34 years of age, Matt Campbell is one of the youngest head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Over the last three years, he has directed to Rockets to an 18-6 conference mark. He was rewarded last week with a new contract through the 2020 season.

Toledo had 11 players earn All-MAC honors. Senior center Greg Mancz is a three-time all-league performer and the 2014 Vern Smith Leadership Award recipient. His offensive line helped the Rockets average 34 points per game this season.

Sophomore running back Kareem Hunt and senior linebacker Junior Sylvestre were on the All-MAC first-team unit. Despite missing three games with an ankle injury, Hunt gained 1,360 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He led the MAC with an average of 151.1 yards per game. Sylvestre, meanwhile, paced the Rockets’ defense with 94 tackles.

This is almost a homecoming game for Arkansas State, as this marks the Red Wolves’ fourth straight trip to Mobile. While celebrating the school’s 100th year of fielding a football team, ASU went 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. The highlight for head coach Blake Anderson’s team came during a 21-14 overtime victory over Utah State, which finished the year 10-4 after winning the New Mexico Bowl.

Leading the Red Wolves’ offense is dual-threat quarterback Fredi Knighten. The all-SBC performer passed for 2,874 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also rushing 774 yards and 11 scores this year. In the finale against New Mexico State, he threw for 296 yards, ran for 153 and accounted for four touchdowns in a 68-35 win.

Joining him on the all-conference squad are linebacker Qushaun Lee and defensive back Artez Brown. On the second-team roster are running back Michael Gordon, defensive lineman Ja’Von Rolland-Jones and kick returner Blaise Taylor.

The Red Wolves are 2-1 during their previous trips to the GoDaddy Bowl. They lost to Northern Illinois in 2012, but have come back to knock off Kent State and Ball State the last two seasons.

Plenty of activities on tap

The week of events begins New Year’s Eve, with a welcoming reception and shrimp boil for both teams at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The party continues the next day, with players gathering for a luncheon at the USS Alabama. Admission to these events are by an invitation.

The schedule heats up Friday. After the players visit young patients at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital, the mayor’s luncheon will take place with special guest speaker and former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann. During the banquet, the GoDaddy Bowl will present Champion of Life awards to individuals who have overcome obstacles and given back to the community. Tickets to the luncheon at the Mobile Convention Center are $30, and can be purchased by calling the GoDaddy Bowl office at 251-635-0011.

More events are set for Saturday, but the highlight is the impressive Mardi Gras-style parade on the streets of downtown Mobile at 6:30 p.m. NASCAR driver Danica Patrick will be the grand marshal. Sixteen Carnival societies will be represented with floats and throws. Along with area high school bands, the cheerleaders and marching bands for Toledo and Arkansas State will appear.

The activities continue at 8 p.m. in Cooper Riverside Park. A fireworks display over the Mobile River will light up the night, while each team will have a pep rally outside the Mobile Convention Center.

On Sunday, a golf tournament for alumni groups and fans from the bowl teams is planned at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course at Magnolia Grove. The cost is $85, which includes breakfast, lunch, door prizes and tournament gifts. To reserve a spot, call the GoDaddy Bowl office.

Patrick will also toss the official game coin prior to kickoff Sunday night, and later present the GoDaddy Bowl trophy to the winning team. Tickets for the game are $45 for sideline seats and $15 for the end zone. Tickets are available by calling Cape Travel at 251-344-2789 or the bowl office.

More than just a game

Most people in Mobile only think about the football game when they hear GoDaddy Bowl. However, the organization keeps busy throughout the year with community projects.

They recently hosted the 14th annual HOAR Program Management/GoDaddy Bowl Reading and Writing Program. The seven-week contest, which ended in October, was open to fifth-graders in Alabama, as well as along the Gulf Coast region in Mississippi and Florida. Students submitted a written book report in 250 words or less, with a panel of judges selecting 10 finalists.

More than 2,000 students were invited to the award ceremony at the Mobile Civic Center Theater Dec. 3. The 10 finalists, who received College Counts 529 funds, will also participate in mayor’s luncheon, the parade and the bowl game.

Catherine Liu Chung, of Old Shell Road Elementary, received the top prize of $5,000.
Edgewood Elementary had the next two winners, with Tully Mitchell earning $3,000 and Luke Keown getting $1,500. The $1,000 winners were Marion Starnes, Andalusia Elementary; Jadon King, Prattville Elementary; and Annika Ung, St. Elmo. The $500 winners were Savanah Goff, Dixon Elementary; Christopher Banashak, Castlen Elementary; Jake Jordan, Dawes Intermediate; and Elizabeth Kell, W.J. Carroll Elementary.

Other events sponsored by the GoDaddy Bowl during the year are the celebrity golf tournament in June; the free half-day football clinic for boys and girls ages 5 to 13 in June; the sailing regatta for boats 19 feet or longer on Mobile Bay in November; along with the New Horizons Credit Union art contest for all high school seniors in Mobile and Baldwin counties that runs through September and October, with the awards ceremony in November.

And don’t forget, there is a football game thrown in there each year. So, let the party begin.