(Peru, Neb.) – Besides seeing a good football game, Peru State football senior Gunnar Orcutt recently was able to have an experience of a lifetime as a member of the 2017 Allstate®/American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team®. Along with 21 other football players from across the country, Orcutt spent several days in New Orleans as part of the recognition which culminated in being honored at halftime of the Allstate Sugar Bowl® on New Year’s Day evening.
The following are excerpts of Orcutt’s account of his trip which included sharing the experience with his brother Jackson and other members of his family.
Orcutt starts: “My trip to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans started at 4 a.m. on December 30 when we (Gunnar and his brother Jackson) arrived at Eppley Airfield. We boarded a plane and were flown to Dallas. After a two-hour layover, we were flown to New Orleans. Upon arrival in New Orleans, we saw a man holding a sign with our names on it, next to the Allstate logo. We were instructed to get our bags and then we were driven to the Waldorf Roosevelt Astoria hotel. Granite floors, Christmas trees, lights, and chandeliers lined the lobby. We checked in and were told how to get to Bourbon Street, as well as what time we needed to be back for our meeting. So off we went to Bourbon Street. We walked through crowds of people, through a few shops, and past some restaurants until we decided to eat at NOLAs. I got the shrimp po’boy with fries while Jackson got the crawfish etouffee. Following our lunch, we returned to the hotel and napped until 5. We then went to a meeting with all members of the Good Works team where we talked about rules for the weekend and were given Allstate Sugar Bowl vests. We also got a chance to tell the group what projects we worked on to be a part of this team. Following this meeting we met up with my family and walked through Bourbon Street at night. We then called it an early night.”
Continuing, Orcutt share the Dec. 31 activities: “The next morning, we ate breakfast around 7:30 and got ready for our community service event. We loaded the buses and drove to the APEX Youth Center. Tim Tebow (yes, the Tim Tebow) and the Imagine Dragons were both present and gave us a motivational speech to start the event. We were all separated into different jobs. I was sent to the library/game room while Jackson was sent to build a garden. I worked with Tommy Openshaw from Vanderbilt, a few Allstate agents, and the parents of Gabe Brander from Duke. We built a ping pong table, a futon, a shelving unit, and just genuinely cleaned the place up. About half way through the event, Tebow came in and introduced himself to me. I am completely serious when I say that he is a better person in real life than he is on TV. He told me how great it was to meet me and what an honor this award really is. I then got a picture with him before getting back to work. Eventually our project was over, and we were given lunch before loading back up on the bus.”
Later on Dec. 31, Orcutt continues with the schedule. He noted, “Following a short bus ride, we arrived at the Sugar Bowl Parade. We were directed to a three-car, two-storied float. Each floor on every car had four to eight boxes of beads. We unwrapped our beads and prepared for the parade to start. Over the next hour we drove through New Orleans throwing beads to the thousands of people watching. Some people even threw us beads! Following the parade, we loaded the bus and made our way back to the hotel. Once at the hotel, we had some time to kill so we met my parents at Mulate’s Cajun Restaurant where we ate some appetizers before the all-state New Year’s Eve Party at the House of Blues. We then returned to the hotel, changed and loaded the bus for the party. At the party we ate shrimp, jambalaya, pasta, and desserts. We hung out at the party for a few hours and then decided to meet my girlfriend at the Sugar Bowl Fan Fest and watch the Imagine Dragons perform. So we all stood on Jackson square and got to watch them play as 2017 came to a close. Following this event, we went back to the hotel and called it a night.”
On New Year’s Day, Orcutt’s day went like this. “At 9 am the next morning we were invited to a breakfast banquet to honor the members of the good works team. Breakfast consisted of typical breakfast foods as well as some Cajun specialties. At this event we got to listen to many very powerful speeches from many high-profile people, including Tim Tebow again. It was during this event that I truly felt that I had done something special. After the banquet, Jackson and I walked to Bourbon Street and bought hand rolled cigars from the New Orleans Cigar Factory. We then returned to the hotel and I started to prepare to leave for the game. Wearing slacks, a collared shirt, and dress shoes, the 22 members of the team loaded the bus to head for the super dome. We were let inside and onto the field, where we got to walk around and hang out! I was then selected as the shortest member of the team, which meant that I would run out onto the field first. We practiced our halftime routine and then were taken to the All-state pregame party. We got to hang out at the party, eat lots of food, and watch the Rose Bowl. We were then recognized in front of the all-state party. After our recognition, we were leaded through the stadium to our skybox where there was more food, Gatorade, Pop, and gift bags. We watched both the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl until the second quarter when they took us to the changing room.”
Continuing with his Sugar Bowl activities, Orcutt note, “When we enter the changing room, our jerseys and trophies were lined up, waiting for us. We changed into our jerseys and made our way over to the field. We got to spend the last six minutes of the first half on the field watching the game! When the first half ended, we ran onto the field and were recognized in front of 72,000 people, and on national TV. We then ran off the field, changed out of our jerseys, and headed back to the sky box. We all watched the rest of the game together, loaded the bus, and returned to the hotel. My family met us there and we hung out until late.”
January 2 was a little pale in comparison, but Orcutt stated, “The following morning, we loaded all our stuff into a van, and were driven to the airport. We sat in the airport and ate beignets until our plane took us to Denver. Following a two-hour layover, we were on our way back to Omaha!”
Talking about his honor, Orcutt concluded, “This experience was truly one of the most special times of my life. To be surrounded by not only my brother and family, but also such a group of high quality men was humbling. Serving the community has always been a passion of mine, and this only made me more excited to do it. I would like to thank Allstate, The AFCA (American Football Coaches Association), and The Sugar Bowl Committee for making this happen. My parents (Mike and Janet), my siblings (Jackson and Hattie) and my girlfriend (Madi) for supporting me every step of the way. My professors for teaching me how to think about things, and for pushing me to excel academically. The administration for creating an environment where I could have this kind of success. My coaches for pushing me athletically and working with my crazy schedule, and also for taking a chance on an undersized linebacker. My teammates for pushing me to be my best each and every day, and for joining me on community service projects. And lastly, I want to thank Ted Harshbarger for his tireless effort promoting students, I could have never gotten this award with out him. I am proud to have represented Peru State on the national stage and I hope that I inspired the next generation of bobcats to dream big and do the right things.”