By Chris Hays, Orlando Sentinel
5:24 PM EST, December 29, 2012
Virginia Tech broke out a maroon matte helmet with the old "Fighting Gobbler" logo on the side for the Russell Athletic Bowl. The "old VT" and "Fighting Gobbler" logos are being retired by the university as of the new year, so this will be the last time the cartoonish turkey logo will be used.
The logo is from the early 1970s and was introduced under former head coach Charlie Coffey, but it was never used on the helmets until Friday's game. On the back of the helmet is a small sticker honoring the victims of the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedies. The helmets will be auctioned off after the game with a portion of the proceeds going to a fund set up for the Newtown families affected.
Former Mainland star returns home
Former Daytona Beach Mainland defensive lineman Kenneth Kirksey was back in Central Florida this week as part of the Rutgers squad.
Kirksey, who was the No. 12-ranked player in the Central Florida Top 100 in 2010, originally signed with Rutgers on National Signing Day of his senior year. He was even in Piscataway, N.J., during summer workouts prior to what he thought would be his freshman season when he learned he had fallen shy of NCAA qualifying standards.
So Kirksey spent his first year out of high school at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.
Through it all, however, he remained committed to the Scarlet Knights.
The 6-foot-1, 275-pound Kirksey came into the Russell Athletic Bowl listed as the No. 2 defensive tackle on the Rutgers depth chart. He saw limited action in the Russell Bowl and played in five games this season, accounting for eight tackles.
Merrell equals sack record
Rutgers defensive tackle Jamil Merrell equaled a bowl record with two sacks of Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. He now shares the record with eight players. The last player to accomplish the feat was Notre Dame’s Jamoris Slaughter in last year’s Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State.
Rutgers commit in the house
Lake Mary tight end Taylor Marini, who committed to Rutgers this past summer, was in attendance at Friday night's Russell Athletic Bowl. Marini was enjoying himself, sitting back row of lower-level Section 132 at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
"It's a great feeling getting to be in my hometown and getting to see the team come down and you just can't ask for anything better. It's a great night," Marini said at halftime, during which Rutgers led 10-0 over Virginia Tech before losing in overtime. "I'm real excited about the offense, and I can't wait to get out there and move around again. It will be great."
Marini, the No. 41-ranked player in the Sentinel's 2013 Central Florida Super60, was not able to go to practices this week at Dr. Phillips High School, due to NCAA guidelines. Marini will arrive on the Rutgers campus next summer to begin his college career.
Russell brings history to Orlando
Russell Athletic has been involved with American football since its humble beginnings as a football jersey-making offshoot of the Russell Manufacturing Corporation during the Great Depression. Despite the down-trodden atmosphere of the nation's economy in 1932, Southern Manufacturing Corporation was opened. No one realized at the time that the uniform sideline would eventually become one of the most recognized athletic brands in the world.
With that sort of corporate philosophy, it's no surprise that once again, in today's difficult economic times, Russell has reached out in full sponsorship of Orlando's annual December bowl game, including being the namesake of the Russell Athletic Bowl.
"It's been really exciting," said Kelly Thompson, senior vice president of Russell Athletic. The company is in its inaugural season of hosting the game. "We have this long history and heritage of being involved with football."
That history includes relationships with Pop Warner, high schools, college and NFL, as well.
"This is kind of a new way of marketing our brand with college football," Thompson said. "Buying the bowl sponsorship allows us to expose the brand to millions of consumers."
Thompson said the relationship between the Russell Athletic company and the bowl game has been "a positive one on every front" and said the hope is that it will continue in the future.
The Orlando bowl had been the Champs Sports Bowl for the past eight years.
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