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Central Michigan immerses in Southwestern culture during trip to New Mexico Bowl

Devonni Reed was asked a simple question that caused local reporters to chuckle during Friday's New Mexico Bowl pregame press conference. 

The reporter wanted to know which type of chile the sophomore defensive back preferred – red or green.

"I'm kinda clueless," Reed said laughing. 

Once the reporter explained the cultural staple, Reed was able to recall a breakfast interaction with defensive coordinator Robb Akey. Reed was willing to step out of his zone of familiarity and try each type on his breakfast meal. 

He was pleased with the result. 

It's that chance to interact within a new culture that makes these bowl games a worthwhile experience.

While the cultural learning points were great, the football game was the opposite. The Chippewas (8-6) were beaten, 48-11, by the San Diego State in Saturday's New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium.

Quarterback Quinten Dormady was intercepted on the Chippewas' first offensive possession, giving a poor Aztec offense a short field. The Aztecs scored on a 22-yard pass from Ryan Agnew to Jesse Matthews and the rout was on. Poor tackling and decision making cost the Chippewas, as they turned the ball over five times and allowed 510 yards of total offense. 

But for Central Michigan president Bob Davies and athletic director Michael Alford, the New Mexico Bowl was about more than just the football game. The trip to Albuquerque served as an opportunity to immerse Central Michigan in a culture that a majority of the program is unfamiliar with. 

"It’s an educational experience for our young men to come to Albuquerque, a different part of the country that they’ve probably never seen, to experience the culture out here," Alford said. "The bowl staff does a tremendous job of just relating that to our student-athletes and our travel parties."

Alford was introduced as athletic director on June 8, 2017. He came from Oklahoma University, where he was the senior associate athletic director. He succeeded Dave Heeke, who served at CMU's AD for the previous 11 years. 

Davies began his tenure as the 15th president of Central Michigan on September 1, 2018. Before CMU, Davies was president at Murray State University in Kentucky. Davies was recognized at the Chippewas' 2018 home opener against Kansas, a game the Chippewas lost 31-7. 

While Davies was making his first appearance at a bowl game as president of the Chippewas, first-year coach Jim McElwain was making his second trip to the New Mexico Bowl. During his time with Colorado State, he led his team to an appearance in the 2013 New Mexico Bowl against Washington State.

"The people here do an unbelievable job," McElwain said. "What they do for these players and what they do for our staffs, our families and our fans, I just want to say thank you. Been fortunate to be to quite a few of these over the years and this is one that truly stands out, and it’s about the people, the people involved."

In that game, McElwain's Rams scored 18 points in the final 2:52, thanks in part to a pair of Cougar fumbles. Quarterback Garrett Grayson threw a touchdown, running back Kapri Bibbs added a rushing touchdown and a last-second field goal from Jared Roberts gave the Rams a 48-45 victory.

Upon landing in Albuquerque on Wednesday, the Chippewas were treated to a welcome event put on by the bowl staff before an evening dinner and gift suite at their team hotel. Each student-athlete received Oakley Holbrook sunglasses, an Oakley gearbox backpack, a bowl game beanie and a water bottle.

Thursday saw the Chippewas have a team practice, another dinner and then an evening of "Survey Says," a "Family Feud" style game in which the opposing squads squared off. The Chippewas won the contest. 

In addition to these events, the trio of Oge Udeogu, Andrew Ward and Romello Tarver visited both Isleta Elementary School and the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital. 

On Friday, McElwain, Reed and Dormady spoke at the press conference that was headlined by an opening from former NFL player and ESPN analyst Merrill Hodge. 

Following the presser, there was a luncheon for both teams and a pep rally that featured a battle of the bands between the two universities.

The pep rally took place in Albuquerque's Old Town Plaza, just one of many cultural staples that student-athletes were able to take in during their trip. 

"Some of the culture of this community and the Southwest some of our kids have never experienced before," Alford said. "They have just really embraced it and they’ve talked about just a great experience they’ve had. They’ve thanked all the bowl representatives and one thing they’ve talked about is that this is one of the best experiences they’ve had in their lives."

Following the loss, sophomore running back Kobe Lewis, who scored the Chippewas lone touchdown, expressed his gratitude for the experience. 

"It was my first bowl game and this is something I would like to come back to," Lewis said. "It's a good experience to get out (to) someplace that you've never been."

Lewis also thanked the New Mexico Bowl committee. His teammate, junior defensive end Troy Hairston, shared the same sentiments.

"Not going to lie, I really enjoyed this week," he said. "It was a good experience in the city. It’s different, not in the worst (way), I'm just saying, it’s just overall, food, everything was excellent."

In addition to the football team being flown down for the bowl festivities, employees in numerous other fields related to the team were also flown down to take part.

For president Davies, that's what it's all about. 

“It’s important not only for our student-athletes, which they’re seeing the results of their hard work and efforts, but it’s also the other students," Davies said. "Being able to come here and be on the national stage.

"It’s not just the student-athletes, it’s all the students that are part of that, getting hands-on experience. It’s big-time for the entire university.”