For much of his life, Joey Palumbo spent the holidays watching the never-ending array of bowl games with his family.
That tradition won’t change in the upcoming weeks. There will be one exception, though.
There will be a day when the Palumbo family won’t be glued to their television sets in Northeast Ohio.
Instead, they will be leaving the Buckeye State for another place that features some warmer temperatures.
That would be the Lone Star State.
The 21-year-old Palumbo, a 2016 Hudson graduate, will conclude his collegiate football career next week in Frisco, Texas.
That’s because his team is going "bowling."
Kent State University is scheduled to play Utah State University in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl Friday.
It is the Flashes’ first bowl appearance since 2012. Palumbo, a member of the Explorers’ 2014 and 2015 state semifinal teams, is a long snapper for the Golden Flashes, who enter the game with a 6-6 record.
The senior captain has been the team’s starting long snapper since his sophomore year. And he doesn’t plan on taking what could be his final appearance on the gridiron for granted.
"It’s awesome," Palumbo said. "The last three years, we were at home watching games on Christmas. Knowing we’re playing in one, it’s something new, something cool."
Kent State’s football team, which has not enjoyed a lot of success over the years, will be making its fourth bowl appearance in school history.
Whether the Flashes can end their season with some hardware is anyone’s guess. However, they do have something extremely valuable that no one can take away.
That would be the Wagon Wheel.
For the first time in Palumbo’s career, Kent State defeated its archrival in October. The Flashes cruised to a 26-3 win over the University of Akron at InfoCision Stadium’s Summa Field.
"That was awesome," Palumbo said. "I was standing there and watching the clock tick down. I sprinted to the wheel and held it. It’s a feeling I can’t describe. All the stuff we worked for in the winter and the spring … I felt rewarded."
Unfortunately that emotional victory over its nemesis had little impact on the immediate future.
Kent State wound up losing its next three games.
And then, just like that, the Flashes completely turned their season around.
With their bowl aspirations in serious jeopardy, Kent State won its next three games. All three of those victories were by single digits and two of those wins were by just three points.
"It was a great way to finish it out," Palumbo said. "They were all kind of like playoff games."
Palumbo isn’t the only former Explorer representing the Mid-American Conference.
Jonah Wieland is a punter for the Zips and tight end Adam Mehelic is a tight end for Miami University in Oxford. The other side of the conference features quarterback Mitch Guadagni, who recently concluded an injury-riddled but stellar career for the University of Toledo.
"It’s really cool, especially with Adam and Jonah on our side of the conference," Palumbo said. "I don’t get to see those guys from high school too often."
Palumbo has kept in contact with former Hudson head football coach Jeff Gough and former Explorers head coach Ron Wright since he left high school.
During his days at Hudson, Palumbo missed the 2014 season because of an injury. The Explorers won the Associated Press regular-season title that year and wound up reaching the Division I state semifinals for the first time in school history.
Palumbo got lots of playing time for the Explorers when he was healthy. Thus, when he arrived at Dix Stadium to begin his collegiate career, Palumbo had to get used to a significantly reduced role.
"I was a two-way guy at Hudson," he said. "Coming in, I was really unsure about it. It was a new role and I met new guys. It took me one or two years to get used to it."
Once he got comfortable with his new surroundings, Palumbo couldn’t get enough of wearing the blue and gold. And now it comes down to one game, which happens to be the most significant game of his life.
"They will be my friends for life," Palumbo said. "It’s something I’ll never take for granted. All the places we traveled together for games, it’s so cool."
Palumbo got a taste of the big time during the first game of his collegiate career. That’s because the Flashes played defending national champion Clemson, which also won a title in 2018.
That game was in South Carolina, but Palumbo and his teammates may have thought they were still in Portage County when they arrived at the stadium.
"The environment was crazy," Palumbo said. "Our windows were tinted during the bus ride and the crowd went crazy because they thought we were Clemson."
Once he returns from Texas, Palumbo will complete his degree in sports administration.
Will his football career be over? Maybe.
Nevertheless, having a reliable long snapper is an absolute must for those who work in front of thousands of spectators every Sunday. If the self-taught Palumbo gets a call from an NFL team, it’s a safe bet he won’t say no.
"Let’s be realistic, no kid has dreams of long snapping," he said. "It’s not really a glorified position, but it’s definitely important. It didn’t work out in high school because of injuries. I took up long snapping and rode it out."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 33-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.