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Wings, snow and football

December 21, 2018

Buffalo is renowned for its chicken wings and lake effect snowstorms.

In his third year with the Bulls football team, La Porte grad Matt Otwinowski can vouch for both.

“What they say about the chicken wings is definitely true. They’re the best in the country,” Otwinowski said, plugging Anchor Bar and Duff’s as local favorites. “The weather is really bad in the south towns. The weather on campus isn’t that bad. It’s about the same as home. I think the worst we’ve had is like two feet, but nothing crazy like the south towns.”

A 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior, Otwinowski is enjoying a break from winter in the north as Buffalo readies for Saturday’s Dollar General Bowl against Troy in the 60-degree temperatures of Mobile, Alabama. The team arrived Tuesday and is taking part in a variety of pre-game activities, including bowling, a tour of the USS Alabama and a Mardi Gras parade.

“It’s really nice,” he said. “It’s a big deal to the team, especially since we were (bowl) eligible last year and were left out. We had a chip on our shoulder in the off-season. It was a goal to get to a bowl game.”

Buffalo (10-3) won the Mid-American Conference East title, qualifying for the MAC championship game, where Northern Illinois rallied for a 30-29 victory. Despite the loss, the 10 wins is a school record and the trip to Alabama gives the Bulls their third crack at a bowl win.

“Troy’s a really well-respected program,” Otwinowski said. “They’ve won two straight bowl games and won 10 games two years in a row.”

Troy and Buffalo have never played before, but the Trojans are familiar with the MAC and Mobile, topping Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl in 2016. The Bulls feature three NFL prospects in 6-foot-7, 245-pound quarterback Tyree Jackson, receiver Anthony Johnson and linebacker Khalil Hodge, who could follow another Bull named Khalil, the Bears’ Khalil Mack, to the pros.

“Tyree is different than anybody I’ve played with or against,” Otwinowski said. “He’s a great leader. He’s really athletic and has a big arm. I’ve been playing behind Hodge for a few years and I’ve learned a lot.”

La Porte’s career record-holder in tackles has managed to carve out a reserve role on the Bulls defense, while also seeing time on special teams. He’s appeared in every game since he was a freshman and has logged 32 tackles this season.

“I play more against teams who run the ball,” he said. “Sometimes, I come in for a series or two at Mike (inside) linebacker. Lately, we’ve been playing teams who use two tight ends and run more, and I play outside linebacker. I’m grateful for any opportunity to get on the field. Next year, hopefully I can expand my role to play (every) down, no matter the situations.”

Linebacker coach Chris Simpson praised Otwinowski for his versatility and consistency.

“Matt’s a true utility player. We can use him in multiple spots,” Simpson said. “He’s really professional about everything he does, a student of the game. He comes very prepared for every practice, every game. I really have a lot of trust and faith in what Matt brings to the table.”

Named this week to the MAC All-Academic team for the second year, Otwinowski carries a 3.8 grade point average and is on schedule to graduate with a degree in Accounting in the spring of 2020.

“I take a lot of pride in doing well in school,” he said. “I have aspirations beyond football. I love football and I love what I do in school.”

Otwinowski’s mom, Shelly, and brother, Andrew, arrived in Mobile on Wednesday and will be at Ladd-Peebles Stadium for the game. He stays in touch with Joe Wagner and Eric Stephens, who were defensive coaches when he was at La Porte, and sees offensive line coach Bob James and former coach Bob Schellinger when he’s in town. He’ll come home Sunday for the holiday break.

Originally a Kent State commit, Otwinowski flipped to Buffalo his senior year at La Porte and is happy with the way it worked out.

“I’ve enjoyed my time in Buffalo,” he said. “It’s a home away from home. Being around my teammates and coaches, they’re my second family. There are great restaurants. Niagara Falls is right there. It’s really cool to see it from the American and Canadian sides. It’s a great place.”

Dollar General Bowl

Saturday

Buffalo (10-3) vs. Troy (9-3), 6 p.m. (ESPN)

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