CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — The countdown and hype for Super Bowl XLVIII continues this week, and it seems no one is more excited than a group of 13 Niagara University students and their professor, Jimmy Smith.
"I was so excited. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I'm a sport management major. This is right up my alley," said senior Jonathan Hibbard.
For the last five years, the university has sent a handful of hospitality and tourism college students to the big game. Smith says the students will split their time between New York City and New Jersey, working events at Times Square's Super Bowl Boulevard and at MetLife Stadium.
"Main responsibilities are going to be hospitality tents and some directional services. Directional services being that former players, former NFL players, helping them to their seats and things like that," explained Smith.
Niagara's program is geared towards hands-on experiences. Smith says although the Super Bowl is a large production, he feels it’s a perfect place for students to flex their hospitality, tourism, and sports management skills.
Junior Rachel Zilka may be a huge football fan but she knows when game day comes around, it's all about work.
"With events, when you have an event this large, how do you manage all the different staff coming together? You have a lot of temp staff there. So how do you get them all working on the same page towards that same goal to make this the best Super Bowl possible for all people attending," Zilka said.
This year's matchup is an added bonus for Smith. He grew up in Olympia, Washington, and is proud to be a part of the "12th Man." While most of his students are rooting on the Broncos, he says grades may change if they don't sport the Seahawks' navy blue and green come Sunday.
"I want to go Broncos. I know he's a Seahawks fan so I'm not going to tell him,” said Hibbard.
"Let's go Broncos! I know Jimmy is a Seahawks fan so don't tell him. My grade might be on the line,” said Zilka, with a laugh. “But just to be there with all those people and meet other students it's going to be a good time."