by Rob Moseley
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — From the very moment Oregon's team charter touched down here Wednesday afternoon, Mark Helfrich set a blue-collar tone for the Ducks' Alamo Bowl trip.
Before athletic department staff and about 30 players could leave the tarmac — other players flew individually from their hometowns — baggage had to be moved from the plane to four waiting busses. Among the group of staff helping expedite the process by shuttling bags were UO athletic director Rob Mullens and his football coach, Helfrich.
For anyone who may have missed the gesture and what it symbolized, Helfrich conveyed a businesslike message at a team meeting shortly after the Ducks arrived at the hotel they'll occupy leading up to Monday's matchup with Texas (3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN).
"We're going to try to ingrain that in their mind right off the bat, that we're here to win a football game," Helfrich said. "We're not here to participate in this great bowl experience — which is a great bowl experience. We want to win the game."
The Ducks regrouped in Texas four days after their final practice of the season in Eugene, a walk-through Saturday. Players were then offered the chance to go spend time with family until this morning, when they began trickling in to San Antonio.
Helfrich, center Hroniss Grasu and safety Brian Jackson attended the first brief media obligation of the week at the hotel. Among the first questions they faced was about the team's attitude after playing in BCS games each of the last four years, but falling short of that this season.
"It's honestly the same energy that we had for the Fiesta Bowl (last season)," Grasu said. "When I ran into some guys I haven't seen since we left, everyone's just happy; it's Christmas, and it's the same exact energy we had last year."
Following interviews, Helfrich addressed the full team in one of various meeting rooms set aside for the Ducks at their hotel. Then, players participated in a short walk-through and some strength and conditioning, also at the hotel.
Wednesday night's schedule included the option of attending the Spurs-Rockets NBA game, and a Christmas dinner. The Ducks will hold their first full practice on-site at a local high school Thursday.
Jackson noted the need to hit the ground running Thursday and Friday, the last hard practices of the season. Helfrich said the team's energy level "hopefully (is) ticked up" for the bowl site practices.
"We want to get better every day," Helfrich said. "Our effort (throughout December) has been good, our enthusiasm has been good; our execution isn't where it needs to be to beat a team like Texas. That's what a couple more days will do. Hopefully we can knock that rust off tonight and get back out here and execute at a high level tomorrow."
The Ducks' schedule for the week also includes a visit with wounded soldiers at the Brooke Army Medical Center's Center for the Intrepid on Thursday; a trip to Sea World on Friday; and a pep rally barbecue Saturday.
"There's a time for focused football, and then there's time for fun," Helfrich said.
Grasu was among the players who planned to attend Wednesday's NBA game. He said he intended to wear a Kobe Bryant jersey, to show support for his favorite team, the Lakers.
On a serious note, Grasu said he offered advice for players new to navigating the bowl experience.
"What I tell the young guys is, just pick the guy you look up to and follow him," Grasu said. "If you find yourself walking around by yourself, that's not a good thing."
Helfrich, who said he has recruited in San Antonio and has family in the area, called it "a great city, a great area."
"It's fun for everybody," the UO coach said. "But it will be a lot more fun if we win the game."
The travel party as anticipated when the Ducks broke practice last week did not change in the interim, Helfrich said. Nobody was left behind due to academic ineligibility and no new disciplinary issues arose, though Helfrich said there were "a couple of travel-related issues."
Three walk-ons are ineligible this season under NCAA rules after transferring from small colleges, and thus could not make the bowl trip. The trio includes receiver Chris Tewhill, receiver Jeff Stolzenburg and defensive lineman Jon Kenion.
Cornerback Troy Hill is not with the team after being suspended following an arrest earlier this month. Tight end Pharaoh Brown, who will not play against Texas due to suspension, was included with the travel party.
There is no limit to the size of the travel squad for a bowl game, unlike the 70-player limit for Pac-12 Conference games.