EL PASO, Texas – In an unlikely twist of fate, three members of the Pittsburgh Panthers were able to make it to the Sun Bowl to face the UCLA Bruins, thanks to the head coach of University of Texas at El Paso’s basketball team.
Samuel Okunlola, Jake Frantl and Hudson Primus, members of the University of Pittsburgh’s football team, were stranded in Dallas on Christmas after a number of flight cancellations, ESPN reported. The Panthers will face the UCLA Bruins in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Friday.
The players were waiting in line to rent a car and planning to drive the nine hours from Dallas to El Paso.
“This couple in front of us hears we’re heading to El Paso, and we started talking, and it turns out he’s the head basketball coach here at UTEP,” Frantl told KTSM.
Joe Golding, the head basketball coach at UTEP, was at the airport with his wife and two sons, Cason and Chase, and was facing a similar predicament after their flight was cancelled, KTSM reported.
Golding told the players that he would rent a car large enough for everyone and then give them a ride to El Paso.
“I see these guys; they have Pitt bags on. They start talking about playing in the Sun Bowl and having to get to El Paso and there weren’t any cars left,” Golding told KTSM. “And I was like, ‘Hey, if we can find a big enough car, I’ll take you guys home.’ And they were like, ‘Who are you?’”
Golding said his wife and sons sat in the back while Frantl sat up front and Okunlola and Primus were in the middle, ESPN reported.
At a news conference Monday, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi offered his thanks to Golding, saying, “I just want to give a shoutout to those guys. That just goes back to the hospitality. Great job by Joe, and we appreciate it,” according to CBS Sports.
“He definitely seemed like a responsible and trustworthy person,” Okunlola told KTSM. “He didn’t have to do that for us, so I’m definitely appreciative.”
Golding told KTSM that he checked with Narduzzi before giving the players a ride and exchanged phone numbers with the players’ parents to make sure they knew their kids were safe.
“Out here in West Texas, that’s what we do,” Golding said. “I would hope someone would do that to Cason and Chase if they were stranded somewhere on Christmas night.”