The next three days will be complete with team meetings, practices and some special events leading up to the 57th annual NAIA Football National Championship game.
Thursday’s matchup between Marian (Ind.) and Morningside (Iowa) will kick off at 6:30 p.m. at Barron Stadium.
Morningside College was the first arrive as the squad out of Sioux City, Iowa arrived in two groups on Monday evening.
The Mustangs had taken buses to Kansas City, Mo., before boarding planes to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
“Right now there is the excitement of just being here,” Morningside head coach Steve Ryan said. “Everything has been great so far.”
Marian University rode chartered buses the nearly nine hours from Indianapolis and got in late Monday night.
Morningside took advantage of their earlier arrival by getting some of their players a chance to stretch their legs by going over to the athletic fields at Darlington School to “move around a little bit,” according to Ryan.
“It won’t be a full practice but we just want to get the guys out,” Ryan said.
Joel Nixon, the Mustang’s starting quarterback, was enjoying a dinner of Chik-fil-A sandwiches after his team was greeted by members of the NAIA Host Committee at their hotel.
“We’re excited,” Nixon said. “We’ve been waiting for it for a long time so we’re ready to get the process started.”
This will be both Marian’s and Morningside’s first trip to the national championship game as Rome hosts the contest for the fifth year in a row.
“We’ve heard so many great things about Rome and the NAIA championship game,’ Ryan said.
“I think we want to have a chance to enjoy the events this week and experience what Rome has to offer and at the same time get prepared to play a football game.”
The facilities at both Darlington School and Shorter University will be made available for the teams to practice.
When they aren’t setting up their game plan for Thursday’s nationally televised game, the players will attend events that promote the mission of the NAIA and honor them for making their way to Rome.
The first event will take place this morning when players from both teams will visit Unity Christian School, Model Elementary, Southeast Elementary and Alto Park Elementary as part of the NAIA’s Champions of Character program.
“I think I’m really excited about going into the schools and talking to the students tomorrow,” Nixon said. “You look at the itinerary and all of the events that are going on and it looks like the people of Rome have something good in store for us.”
Today will also include the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Champions of Character luncheon at 12 p.m. at The Forum where Hoover (Ala.) High School football coach Josh Niblett will be the featured speaker.
Both teams will finish the day at First Baptist Church of Rome or St. Mary’s Catholic Church as the members of each church feed the players.
“We’ve tried to the take the approach of this is just another game,” Nixon said. “But it’s a business trip for us. Our goal is to win a national championship.”
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