RUSTON, La. - Take a glance at the 2011 Bulldog football roster and, besides the home-grown talent that has helped Louisiana Tech to a WAC championship and berth in the Poinsettia Bowl, you'll see quite a few players with "CA" listed as their home state.
What's with this California connection? What's the draw of picking up and leaving friends and family on the West Coast for the unknown of the Deep South? There's no Baja-style crawfish in Downtown Ruston or fish taco stands in Railroad Park or In-N-Out Burger on Tech Drive? How do you begin to describe the differences between where you've been, where you are, and how you got here?
For Californians Colby Cameron, David Gru, Taulib Ikharo and Nick Isham, the difference of two time zones and 2,000 miles is just the beginning.
"I tell people that I'm in Louisiana and they'll say, 'aw man, you're way out there in the country' or that 'they're all going out hunting all the time,'" said Ikharo.
"People I talk to back home think Louisiana is just 'Swamp People,'" added Cameron.
"It was scary at first, such a change from California, but [Ruston] really grows on you," said Gru. "The southern hospitality is nice."
And the food (always near and dear to college students and athletes alike)?
"I've never eaten so much fried chicken in my entire life," said Gru. "Everything is deep fried," adds Ikharo. "Deep fried pickles, Oreos, Twinkies...everything."
"I like the etouffee and jambalaya," said Isham. "You can't really get it like that back home." Cameron adds, "I never tried deer until I came out to Louisiana. I really like it."
For each member of this California quartet, the road to Louisiana Tech was an unconventional one.
"A Tech coach was actually out in California to look at another quarterback in the area and ended up at my school," said Cameron. "They liked what they saw and invited me out to Tech. It was a good opportunity to play college football."
"I was at home training to be a firefighter and wanted to look at new opportunities and to get a good education," recalls Gru. "I called Colby [Cameron] who was my best friend and who I had played football with since we were in the sixth grade, and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Louisiana."
For Ikharo, the journey to Louisiana Tech came as a result of a coach's visit to see his junior college's quarterback. "Coach [Tony] Franklin was out to watch our quarterback and saw me running some routes. I guess he liked what he saw in me."
Isham's story mirrors that of Ikharo's. "Coach Franklin was scouting another player who ended up going to play at another college. He found my tape on the Internet, talked to a few of my coaches and called me up. I remember thinking that it was cool that the call came right around Christmas time."
Sacrifices have certainly been made by each player. Ikharo missed his graduation ceremony to contribute to his team's 24-20 win over Nevada in Reno. "I was thinking about graduation during the game. My mom wanted me to stay in Ruston for the ceremony, but I had to tell her, 'Mom, I have a game to go to and I'll still get my diploma.' Graduating was very important to me. It was one of the goals I set for myself coming out here."
Each player has had unique challenges in adjusting to college life in a place that is so very much different than any place they had ever lived before.
And now they are all together at Louisiana Tech, leading their team back to their home state to play in the Poinsettia Bowl...in an ESPN primetime game...as champions of the Western Athletic Conference...against a team ranked in the Top 20 in the nation.
It just goes to prove that sometimes the b-side of the record is better than the hit single.