Fan experience

BYU football: Atmosphere and fan experience at games important to coaches and players

2012-08-28T04:00:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:24Z BYU football: Atmosphere and fan experience at games important to coaches and playersJared Lloyd - Daily Herald Daily Herald
August 28, 2012 4:00 am  • 

When game time rolls around Thursday evening against Washington State (8:15 p.m., ESPN), the players and coaches on the BYU football team will be focused on execution and effort, the little details that might determine whether a game ends in victory or defeat.

But they still recognize that spectators are a big part of football.

"I want them to fill our stadium because of the experience," said Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "It's not only watching the game but there is also why we are playing the game. We continue to try to make LaVell Edwards Stadium a fantastic experience. We have brand new scoreboards and there's now a tailgate area open at the Marriott Center, which I don't think has ever happened before. We're trying to do everything better to improve our program."

BYU may not have the same tailgating tradition as exists in the south or midwest, but the school had made some changes to make it easier for fans to come early and to enjoy a get-together hours before the contest.

The new plan provides tailgating space in the parking lot just north of the BYU Broadcast Building and additional RV parking north of LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The tailgating lot will be open four hours before kickoff and tailgaters will be able to have two parking spaces per vehicle (but only propane grills are allowed). RVs and other oversized vehicles will be able to park at a lot located at 2230 North 130 East, but space is limited and must be reserved through BYU Campus Scheduling.

“The goal was to create a centralized location that gives Cougar Nation more space to enjoy the pregame experience with friends and family,” said BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe in a statement released last week. “Just as with the addition of the new scoreboards, it’s all part of a continual effort to improve the game-day experience.”

Mendenhall wasn't ready to say he was satisfied with that experience yet but he called it "progress."

The players also notice the impact the fans can have on a game.

"It gets me going," said Cougar junior running back Michael Alisa. "It's not everything because football is a game I love, but when you add the fans in there it adds an extra energy to your game."

Experience also teaches players when to let the atmosphere of college football raise their game — and when to get locked in and tune it out.

"I think we have great fans and I know a lot of people are excited to come out," said BYU senior quarterback Riley Nelson. "It's a big stage and it's important, but if I'm honest I don't hear the fans much during the game. For example, I don't remember any of that from the Utah State game and people said that stadium was rocking, but I was zoned in."

Even though he's planning on staying focused, Nelson said he hopes the spectators can do enough to disrupt the visitors.

"Hopefully our fans are crazy and it affects the other team," Nelson said. "But hopefully I can get in the psychological zone where it feels like practice."

Both Nelson and Alisa said they loved being a part of that atmosphere before their playing days.

"The anticipation up to the game was always tremendous," Nelson said. "We always had to get there an hour and a half before games. I wanted to watch the kick returners and kickers warm up. I loved being in the stadium when it was empty and watching the players come out. That was almost more fun than the game. The anticipation leading up to it, you can't find that in any other sport."

Two centers?: When the BYU depth chart came out on Monday, the three interior line positions — both guards and center — all had two names with neither being specified as the starter.

"It's probably the most depth we've ever had — and that's a good thing," Mendenhall said. "It reflects the depth of the program."

One of those battle is in the key spot in the middle of the line with the guy who gets the play started. Mendenhall said both sophomore Blair Tushaus and junior Houston Reynolds could see time at center.

For Nelson in the quarterback spot, there are some slight variations depending on who's in the game — something he explained in some detail.

"They both have different shaped backsides, so that's something different," Nelson said. "The contour is different for my hand. But once that adjustment is made, I trust them. Houston's a little bit more sweaty than Blair, which is unfortunate for me."

Nelson said he had no problem with however the position is handled on Thursday.

"I trust both of those guys," he said. "I hope whoever has the hot hand would be in the game."

Mendenhall answers heckler: At the recent fan gathering, Mendenhall was interrupted in the middle of talking to the assembled fans.

"At first I wanted to know what he said and he had a legitimate point," the BYU head coach said. "What I understood that he said was that we are not playing in the afternoons anymore and he's right."

Mendenhall told the man that exposure means a lot and in order to get the type of exposure the program and the university have been getting, some sacrifices have to be made.

"That's a tradeoff I'm willing to make, but it's probably hard on some folks who were used to afternoon games," Mendenhall concluded.

Walk-ons added: It was released on Monday that 12 walk-on players would be added to the roster to start out on the scout team.

Those players are: Andrew Crawford (OL), Mike Edmunds (TE), Jordan Egbert (TE), Garrett Gallinger (DL), Ryan Jensen (LB), Daniel Lacey (RB), Quinn Lawlor (OL), Connor Noe (DB), Logan Taele (DL), Darin Tuttle (DL), Jake Ziolkowski (WR) and Michael Wadsworth (DB).

Wadsworth drew the most attention, since he elected to walk on at BYU when his former school (Hawai'i) refused to let him talk about transferring to Provo.

"It's a unique situation," Mendenhall said. "Anytime releases are asked for and not granted, in particular to a single school, it's difficult. I'm just glad he's here. I met him for the first time today. I wasn't able to have any contact until the first day of school."

Mendenhall firmly said that there was no improper contact with Wadsworth, denying the implication made earlier in the summer by Warrior head coach Norm Chow, and said Wadsworth would've been on scholarship if he had been granted his release. Mendenhall said Wadsworth will redshirt this fall.

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or at jlloyd@heraldextra.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.

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