Friday, December 30th, 2016


Western Michigan on Friday completed its last heavy practice before the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and appeared right on schedule physically and mentally.

The Broncos (13-0, 9-0 Mid-American), ranked 15th in the College Football Playoff poll, take their undefeated record into the Jan. 2 game against No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2 Big Ten), which did not practice on Friday.

Western Michigan’s fourth practice at AT&T Stadium was one of “high energy … incredible focus from our players,” Head Coach P.J. Fleck said. “They’ve been locked in all week.”

Part of that focus has included walking the line between having fun at night but not so much that the players have drained their energy. Fleck encouraged players to stay off their feet as much as possible this weekend. He described their legs as “really fresh.”

“We look really fast right now,” Fleck said. “I think that’s a credit to them taking care of their bodies and to our strength coach Dan Nichol, our trainer [Arno] Rheinberger – they do a tremendous job.

“One thing about this team is they really care. The harder you work, the more you sacrifice, the harder it is to give up what you’re working for. They’re not going to get to this point and abandon what they know. Their trained behavior has become instinct now and they rely on those instincts. And that instinct is to take care of your body.”

Fleck took time after practice as he addressed the team to recognize walk-on Jaret Curtis. Curtis, a freshman from Green Bay, Wis., served all season as the scout-team running back, essentially a human tackling dummy.

The team chemistry that Fleck has so richly created can be seen in gestures like this one. You’d be hard-pressed to find another coach in a New Year’s Six bowl who, within 72 hours of kickoff, is celebrating a player who won’t touch the field on game day. It brought his teammates to their feet with hardy applause and cheers.

“We’re only as strong as the 105th guy on our team,” Fleck said in explaining why he recognized Curtis. “Everybody has a role. Every role is equally important. Jaret Curtis has taken [almost] every single scout-team rep since August at running back. We don’t have a ton of depth. He might get a break once in awhile, but every rep that young man has taken – it is not easy. He gets hit every day 10s upon 10s of times and he stays healthy, never has complained, did his job for the football team, and he needs to be recognized just as much as [receiver] Corey Davis is as a consensus All-American.”
Western Michigan will conduct a light practice on Saturday. Also, all players on the two-deep roster and coaches will participate in media day at AT&T Stadium. Both events are closed to the public.

The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic celebrates its 81st anniversary on Monday, January 2. Airtime on ESPN is set for noon CST, with kickoff slated for 12:01 p.m.

This marks the third consecutive year for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl to be a part of the ESPN bowl lineup. Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard will provide the call from the booth with Allison Williams reporting from the sideline.

ESPN Radio returns as the Classic's national radio partner for the fifth consecutive year. Brad Sham, the "Voice of the Dallas Cowboys," teams with Rod Gilmore in the booth and Quint Kessenich on the sideline to describe all the action from AT&T Stadium. This is Sham's 20th consecutive year as the Classic's play-by-play voice and his 24th overall.

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