FLORENCE - A large grin came across Carlos Fields’ face when asked if he liked the treatment he was receiving during Division II National Championship Game week.
“It’s really been fantastic. They treat us like kings,” said Fields, a linebacker with Winston-Salem State University. “When we found out we were going to fly, that was something, because 60 percent of the team had never (flown) before, including me.
“So we get to fly, and then we get here, get this welcome at the airport and get the police escort to the hotel, and everywhere we’re going with lights flashing and sirens and going through red lights. It’s great.”
Tyler Josey, a defensive end from Valdosta State University, was a member of the 2007 team that played in the Division II National Championship Game in Florence. But as a red-shirt freshman, he didn’t make the trip.
“The guys that were here (in 2007), all talked about the experience they had in playing in the game and enjoyed the festivities of the week,” Josey said. “I couldn’t wait to get here and enjoy everything about being in the championship game.”
At noon Saturday, Valdosta State faces Winston-Salem State for the NCAA Division II National Championship. This is the 27th year for the championship game to held in Florence.
Shoals National Championship Committee member Mitch Dobbins said Grady Liles, the man credited with bringing the game to Florence in 1986, envisioned this type of championship game atmosphere.
Dobbins said Liles attended the championship game in McAllen, Texas, in 1985 to watch the University of North Alabama play.
“What he noticed is it basically was just a football game,” Dobbins said. “He believed the kids deserved to be treated as champions. We’ve had coaches who have coached in Division I who said what we do is equal to or greater than a lot of the Division I bowl games they have out there.”
On Thursday night the teams enjoyed southern barbecue at the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum and played games.
This morning, some of the players from each team will be participating in a reading initiative and will be going to four elementary schools to read with the students.
Valdosta State coach David Dean has been a part of four national championship games. He said events sponsored by the Shoals National Championship Committee leading up to the game are talked about among players for years.
“This is going to be a tremendous experience, something great for our guys to be a part of,” Dean said. “We know there is a lot of hard work that goes into making this what it is, but it is something none of us will forget.”
Winston-Salem State coach Connell Maynor said the excitement surrounding the game is unbelievable.
“It’s a great atmosphere for football, and I’m excited that our team gets to be a part of it,” Maynor said.
Winston-Salem State quarterback Cameron Smith said everything that goes into the championship week makes the game even more special.
“It makes us realize just how important the game is,” Smith said.
Valdosta State wide receiver Gerald Ford said when the buses got behind their police escort in Cullman on Wednesday night, team members started getting excited.
“They picked up an hour from here,” he said. “It was great to get that escort all the way here and then be welcomed when we got to the hotel.
“They made us feel special, like kings.”
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.