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August 22, 2014

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Las Vegas Bowl players take time out for ailing children

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Justin M. Bowen

Members of the BYU and Arizona football teams visit Sunrise Children’s Hospital to deliver gifts to long-term patients.

Las Vegas Bowl Players Visit Patients

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl football players visit pediatric patients at Sunrise Children's Hospital.

BYU and Arizona football players visit the Sunrise Children's Hospital

Members of the BYU and Arizona football teams visit Sunrise Children's Hospital to deliver gifts to long-term patients.  Launch slideshow »

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Four-year-old Ethan Freer was walking down the hall of the Sunrise Children's Hospital with his dad and sister Thursday morning when he saw some big guys walking around he had never seen before.

He was heading to his room, but decided he may just stick around and get to the bottom of these lumbering giants.

"He didn't want to go back in his room when he saw all the guys," said his father, Ben. "He was glad to see them and he wanted to stay and see what was going on."

Ethan, who has been a patient at Sunrise since August, was one of the many children who got a visit by Las Vegas Bowl players from BYU and Arizona.

The players stayed for more than an hour before heading to their respective practices.

"It's nice of them to take time out of their day. It's special for everybody," Ben Freer said. "They've got things they're here to do this week and it's nice they find time to do this. Usually Ethan is a lot shier, but he's interacting with a lot of people today."

While players spent the morning finding ways to make the kids laugh, Ethan returned the favor when he admitted his favorite team was the New York Giants and that even though the Arizona players had stopped to visit him, that didn't necessarily mean he'd be cheering for them on Saturday.

"He's just a New York Giants fan," Ben said.

In the midst of a busy bowl weekend schedule that includes an eating challenge Thursday night on Fremont Street, the players said it was nice to have the opportunity to spend time with the kids.

"I look up to them, not literally, because I think I was bigger than most of them," said Nate Hartung, BYU's 6-foot-5, 360-pound lineman. "But I respect the challenges they're dealing with. I don't really know how to describe them. They're good kids."

For BYU, the bowl experience has become an annual thing as this is the team's fourth consecutive year in Las Vegas.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, are playing in their first bowl game in 10 years and have been soaking in everything.

"It's all been tremendous," said Wildcats kicker Jason Bondzio. "Staying in the hotel and seeing the Strip, it's all a tremendous experience. [Coming to the hospital] is the first time I had ever done anything like this, too, and it was a great feeling to give back and we're all having a good time doing it."

For the children at Sunrise, an hour out of the players' schedule made a big difference.

"I like that they would be humble and want to come here," said 17-year-old patient Jenae Miller. "Some people forget we're up here sometimes. It's nice when they don't."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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