Texas Tech junior running back Kenny Williams threw two touchdown passes during the regular season, but couldn’t quite connect with a dolphin Thursday morning at SeaWorld in San Diego.
“It kind of saddens me that I didn’t get to complete a pass to it,” Williams said.
Williams, senior linebacker Will Smith, senior defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, junior defensive lineman Jackson Richards and junior tight end Jace Amaro joined head coach Kliff Kingsbury with the dolphins in their first stop at the park.
“It was a cool experience for our players to get out here and see that,” Kingsbury said. “Firsthand deal to touch and interact with dolphins, it’s a unique experience.”
The players failed to complete a pass to the dolphin and it wasn’t long until they handed the reins to the quarterback.
“They needed to work on their aim though,” Kingsbury said. “None of those guys have played quarterback and it definitely showed.”
Instead of throwing to a finned receiver, Kingsbury threw the football to a spot in the pool and the dolphin retrieved it.
Later, Williams volunteered to hold on to the football while the dolphin jumped up and took it.
When asked if he was worried about his running back’s fingers, Kingsbury said the dolphin came “pretty close.”
“I was proud of him stepping up and doing it,” Kingsbury said. “Most of these kids haven’t been out of Texas so to come here and have this experience; it’s really been neat to watch them enjoy it all.”
The small contingency of Red Raiders threw passes, danced and communicated with the dolphins through hand signals.
“Relationships between the trainers and the dolphins are very important because all of our training methodology is based on positive reinforcement,” SeaWorld Communications Director Dave Koontz said. “In order to do that, you have to really build a bond or a trust relationship. You were able to experience that here with the coach and the team, just to see how close that relationship is with our trainers and how much the dolphins enjoy interacting with other people.”
That group didn’t leave without being splashed, however, before catching up with the rest of the Red Raider football team to explore the park.
Most of them made it to watch Shamu perform in the early afternoon.
Despite having to be away from family over the holidays, Williams said that being in San Diego with his team is “the next best thing.”
For weeks leading up to bowl selection on Dec. 8, Amaro said the team had a feeling that they would end up back in Houston for a second straight year.
That being said, he’s happy they’re in San Diego.
“We’re having the best times of our lives here,” Amaro said. “Everyone’s happy and really excited about playing in San Diego and playing against a great team. It’s just memories and things you can’t take away for a lifetime. We know that our time is limited here at Texas Tech. There’s only a couple more days until this team will never be again. We’re going to make the best of it and have fun every single day and make sure we’re ready to play in that bowl game.”
This is Texas Tech’s first bowl game outside the state of Texas since 2008 in its New Year’s Day 31-28 victory over Virginia in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
“Anytime you qualify for a bowl like this and come out here, you want them to see parts of the world that maybe they haven’t seen,” Kingsbury said. “Just thrilled to watch them be here and enjoy this entire bowl experience.”
This unique experience is something SeaWorld has kept alive with the Holiday Bowl since its inception in 1978.
“SeaWorld has had a relationship since it started. In fact, back when it started in the ’80s it was the SeaWorld Holiday Bowl,” Koontz said. “We were the title sponsor. We’ve maintained that relationship for more than 35 years and one of the big events for the teams when they get here is a trip to SeaWorld and the opportunity, whether it’s a formal photo op like this where we have several of the players doing interactions. … Practice is practice and you’ve got to get ready for the game, but it’s really nice to get to come out here and have some fun things to do, too.”