|« Freshmen big hit in Lafayette scrimmage||Relive the Moment: 'Harvard Beats Yale' With Shocking 29-29 Tie in 1968 Edition of Ivy League Matchup »|
New digs fill old Montana State Bobcats with pride, optimism
The success of the Bobcat football home opener Sept. 10 will depend on two kinds of drilling now under way at Montana State University.
While players race each other around cones on the practice field, a construction crew is finishing assembly of a new south end zone stadium.
“To walk in the stadium the first time, the feeling was overwhelming,” linebacker coach Kane Ioane said. “I was prideful of where we’ve come as a program.”
Ioane remembers coming to a more modest Bobcat stadium as a child fan. When he was a freshman player in 2000, MSU had a new westside grandstand — built in 1998 — but the Cats went 0-11 that season.
“That group of freshman, we went through that together but ended our careers Big Sky champions,” he said. “A lot of credit goes to generations of Cats who put the time in building the reputation of the program. It’s at an all-time high.”
And now Ioane coaches for a program that announces with its latest, $10 million stadium renovation: We have arrived.
“Our program is at the cusp of being a prominent program in this country,” he said. “There are a lot of Bobcats who would love to come back and play in this.”
MSU has built the stadium, but will the fans come?
“Now it’s a matter of keeping the stadium filled,” Ioane said. “Our football program has to rise as high as our stadium.”
The new end zone is sold out, except for 800 seats saved for University of Montana fans for the Cat-Griz game. Tickets to those seats for the rest of the season are sold as single-game tickets. The former student section is 70 percent sold out.
“We’re darn near where we usually are even adding 5,200 seats,” MSU sports spokesman Bill Lamberty said.
The bowl effect of the south end zone is drawing a lot of notice.
“The visual effect is significant. It’s a different-looking stadium with that end zone complete. We’re anxious to see how the noise and wind are affected,” Lamberty said. “The players and fans all summer are saying it’s quite a sight to behold.”
Ioane said the stadium project has “sparked energy and enthusiasm around the state.”
When Ioane first saw the field a week ago, the Cats weren’t the only ones eager to scope out results of the $10-million stadium expansion.
“I’ve never seen that many people at a half-time scrimmage,” he said. “It helps us recruiting in the state to have a stadium comparable to what (the Griz) have.”
Ioane predicted the Cat-Griz game, which Bozeman hosts Nov. 19, is going to be a totally different experience.
“The atmosphere is going to be ridiculous, something we haven’t seen before,” Ioane said. “It’s already loud, and now the sound is going to be contained. It will be outlandish.”
From a defensive perspective, containing all that noise will take home-field advantage to a new level.
“When your stadium’s going crazy, that is going to be a huge advantage on defense,” he said. “This is going to be an intimidating place for visiting teams that come in here for playoffs in winter, let alone conference opponents.”
Construction is on-time and on-budget for the opening game, Lamberty said. “But I’m sure it will go down to the wire for the first game.”
The new end zone stadium includes new restrooms, concessions and a new student access point with a scanner for student identifications.
The new section replaces 2,000 wooden seats with 7,200 new ones for a total capacity of about 17,000. The aluminum benches on the concrete base go in this week.
The new section also includes a new visiting locker room with a short, narrow ramp for the team to use to enter the field.
The student section has moved to the new section, with a block along the end zone for maximum boisterousness where it really counts. The number of student seats has risen from 3,100 to 4,100.
Blue steel beams are in place, but sections of concrete still need pouring under the stands. The stairs aren’t in place yet, and the electrical work needs finishing.
The new scoreboard went up last week, and sound system testing started this week. By Saturday, all the bugs should be gone, Lamberty said.
The 39-by-36 foot scoreboard and screen cost about $250,000 and was designed by Bozeman’s Advanced Electronic Designs, a company heavy on MSU grads.
Ioane hasn’t seen the new screen in action and hopes the team is treated to a preview before they take the field against UC Davis.
“We might have to play some videos beforehand so the players are not so distracted,” he said.
Clancy Gaworski, project superintendent, has been part of the stadium’s evolution since 1998 when he helped erect the west grandstand.
With this project, he’s proudest “that we got it done. The weather was killing us,” he said.
Rain, snow, mud and a winter that wouldn’t end cost the crew three weeks time, he said, but he’s confident the project will be finished by game day.
“It’s going to look nice when it’s done,” he said.
Jake Ehresmann, an MSU alum and project engineer with Martel Construction, said being a Bobcat fan imparts “more of an attachment to the project.”
Stadium by the numbers
Cost, $6 million in private donations and $4 million bonded
Number of donors to the EZ Campaign
Crew working on stadium
Pre-cast concrete sections of bleachers, each 1,300-21,00 pounds
Yards of cast-in-place concrete
Pounds the biggest 16 beams weigh each
Feet the longest beams are
Toilet partitions in the addition
Ratio of women’s toilets to men’s toilets
by KRISTEN INBODY,