By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas teammates Ray Dominguez and DeMarcus Love agreed on something very important as they prepared for their senior seasons.
After their experience in frigid temperatures in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis last January, and remembering the chill from the Cotton Bowl two years earlier, they didn’t want their careers to end at another cold weather bowl.
"We discussed we want to make sure we go to a warm bowl," Dominguez said. "Because when we went to the Cotton Bowl it was cold and Memphis was ridiculous."
So Dominguez was all smiles last week when he talked about Arkansas’ destination — New Orleans. Dominguez, Love and the rest of Arkansas’ senior class will get their wish, playing their final game in the climate-controlled environment of the Louisiana Superdome.
But it’s not just about the temperature. The Razorbacks are playing in a Bowl Championship Series game for the first time in school history, reaching heights that seemed practically unattainable three years ago.
It’s a well-deserved gift for a group that has experienced plenty — and worked tirelessley — throughout their Arkansas careers. Sure, the Razorbacks opened the season confident they could win championships in 2010, but Love said a trip to the Sugar Bowl to play Ohio State is a nice consolation for Arkansas’ senior class.
"The only thing better than a BCS bowl is a national championship," Love said. "So out of a 119 or 120 Division 1 teams, you only have 10 that are in the BCS. It’s an opportunity and you have got to make the most of it. We want to set the tone for next season, finishing in the top five and leaving our mark on this program."
Win or lose, the seniors’ impact has been felt. The group includes season-long starters like Love, Dominguez, tight end D.J. Williams, defensive end Damario Ambrose, cornerback Ramon Broadway, fullback Van Stumon and guard Wade Grayson. Linebacker Anthony Leon and safety Rudell Crim have only been on campus for two seasons, but their impact has been felt. There are others who haven’t been in the spotlight — like linebacker Freddy Burton, defensive tackle Patrick Jones and tight end Ben Cleveland — who have been valuable as well.
It’s a class that may not be loaded with many future NFL stars, but has been credited by Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino for its leadership and dedication to the program.
"They deserve to be in this game," Petrino said. "What they’ve given to our program, the standards they’ve set, the leadership they’ve shown, how hard they’ve competed to get to this game. Now we get to go out on a big stage and we need to perform well.
"I think they understand that. They’re looking forward to going out and having a great performance."
It’s no secret Petrino was especially proud of his veterans for helping Arkansas get through tough times.
They were youngsters when Petrino took over the program in 2008, struggling to adapt to the coaching change after being recruited by former coach Houston Nutt. The Razorbacks struggled through that first season, missing out on a bowl game. But the payoff has come in 2010.
Sure, there were challenges. The Razorbacks were 4-2, 1-2 in the SEC after a loss at Auburn on Oct. 16. Their hopes of winning the Southeastern Conference Western Division title ended, but there was plenty to play for.
The seniors — who helped lead the way — are reaping the rewards now with Arkansas playing in the Sugar Bowl.
"Guys who have been here since the beginning through all the coaching change, through all the things that have been tough on us, it’s just great to be able to go out and be a special football team," Ambrose said.
Ambrose added that it may just be one of the greatest teams in school history, a debate that could be made with an Arkansas win over Ohio State. It would be the third time in school history the Razorbacks had won 11 games in a season. A win in the Sugar Bowl would also be their biggest in a bowl since, arguably, the 1978 Orange Bowl.
It’s a final goal Arkansas’ senior class is pushing to achieve. But, either way, they’re going to enjoy the gift of ending their careers by playing in a BCS game.
"This means the world to me," Crim said. "To be in a situation like this, it’s something that you always dream about. I’m very thankful ... It’s a dream come true."