NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Like the majority of his teammates, Vanderbilt defensive end Steven Stone is usually at home this time of year letting his bumps and bruises from the season heal. However, with preparations for Wednesday's Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl taking place throughout the month, Stone has spent less time at home this holiday season than usual, but he wouldn't want it any other way.
"Most guys, myself included, would be sitting at home right now," Stone said. "I wouldn't trade that for this experience though."
With Vanderbilt's players spending fewer days at home than most college students this winter, the bowl game has provided families an opportunity to not only watch Vanderbilt's first bowl game since 1982, but also ring in the new year together.
As a result, many players are having a larger number of family members in town for the bowl game than they would for a typical home game.
"Everybody is coming to town," Stone said. "They are all real excited about it and realize how big a deal it is. My brother and sister, my parents and a lot of extended family are all coming. I also have friends from my hometown (Conway, Ark.) coming."
Like Stone, junior linebacker John Stokes will have more family in town for the bowl game than he typically does. A Memphis, native, Stokes usually has six or so family members in attendance at home games, but he expects that number to be much higher on Wednesday.
"It is more than a usual home game, but this is definitely a special event," Stokes said. "During the holidays, brothers and sisters can come and the cousins that are out of school can come. The numbers add up after a while."
One of the members of the Stokes family that will be in attendance Wednesday will be John's father, Jack Stokes. A Vanderbilt alumnus, Stokes has been busy rounding up family members for the game since the announcement.
"We usually bring a lot of people to the home games, but it is more than normal," Jack Stokes said. "We wouldn't miss a game at all, but it has been a long time since I've been to a Vanderbilt bowl game."
Stokes attended Vanderbilt's last bowl game in 1982, but he never imagined Vanderbilt wouldn't play in another bowl game until his son was on the team. Since the team's invitation to the Music City Bowl there haven't been many people who have worn their black and gold more proudly than Stokes.
"A lot of people gave (John) and I a lot of grief when John decided to go (to Vanderbilt) and play, but they aren't giving us any grief now," Stokes said. "We are having fun reminding them of that."
For Stone, Nashville and the Music City Bowl will be the site of a family reunion of sorts for him and his family.
"My sister didn't get to spend Christmas with us this year, so this is like a second Christmas for us," Stone said. "It is a good excuse to get the whole family together."
Since those in attendance from the Stokes family are all from Memphis, the game won't be quite the reunion it may be for other players, but it gives the family an opportunity to come together and celebrate something that hasn't happened in 26 years.
"They know how special it is for my son to be able to play in a bowl," Jack Stokes said. "People are off during the holidays and it just gives us an extra incentive that we've got a member of the family playing in a bowl game. It will be a festive occasion for us."