By Grag Laudani, Staff Writer
A new stadium is on the horizon for the UNH football team. Construction will begin this May and is expected to finish by the summer of 2016.
In the project’s original designs, which dated back to January 2014, UNH athletic director Marty Scarano said the student section would be moved further back from its usual place at Cowell Stadium. The new stadium plan had the section moving from behind the end zone, where wooden bleachers are currently placed, to the corner of the new grandstands included in construction plans.
But those plans soon changed, according to Scarano.
“I think the playoffs just basically said to us that we had to make a strategy change,” Scarano said. “I think that if we had gone forward with the original plan and eliminated the end zone section, we would have had a lot of angry students.”
The stadium now calls for students to stay right where they have been – on the field supporting their team.
On Wednesday night at Lundholm Gymnasium, Scarano, along with head coach Sean McDonnell, quarterback Sean Goldrich and safety Daniel Rowe spoke in front of a group of approximately 100 students to express their gratitude for students’ support of the football program.
Rowe said he is happy the student section will remain where it is. The junior safety said having screaming fans behind the end zone has become a part of UNH tradition.
“We wanted to come out because they [UNH fans] are our 12th man,” Rowe said. “And to lose that would be like losing a part of this team, this culture. We can’t lose that.”
The safety also talked about how having the student section behind the end zone is effective in intimidating opposing offenses.
“On the defensive side of the ball, they are our 12th man when it comes to red zone,” Rowe said. “We cause so much disruption on that side of the field with them [fans] on our backside. No one can stop us down there.”
Goldrich echoed Rowe in praising what he said is an increased fan base over the last few seasons.
“Coming from a player, being in the game and hearing some of those loud noises makes it really tough for opposing offenses to focus,” Goldrich said. “So you have to appreciate that. The ‘Cat Pack is still growing a little bit but even now they do a great job making noise and making an impact on the game.”
Goldrich also talked about how he thinks the new stadium will continue to increase the team’s fan support.
“We’ve always been that place where teams come up here and think that they are going to a place that doesn’t have the nicest facilities and doesn’t really have a lot of fans,” Goldrich said. “And now that we’re going to be bringing in this new facility, I think we’re going to attract a whole new fan base. We’re hoping to have the whole state of New Hampshire coming to these games.”
The new stadium will feature state-of-the-art broadcast and Wi-Fi capability, concessions, restrooms as well as unique new viewing opportunities.
Scarano said that the stadium would not just be used for football games. The athletic director said it could be used for graduation, concerts and other campus events. He also discussed the proposed “Club Lounge” area inside the stadium, which Scarano said he believes will be a popular dinner attraction that could hold up to 140 seats—or 250 people—at a standing reception.
The athletic director talked about his hopes that the new stadium will help encourage more students to attend UNH.
“New people that come to the university are going to get a great first impression,” Scarano said. “If you’re coming from anywhere, whether it’s northern Massachusetts, Vermont or anywhere in New Hampshire and you have small children, we want to impress upon you that this is a great place to send your kids. And I think that this stadium is going to go a long way towards helping that.”
Taylor Patterson, a UNH senior and band member, was the first attendee to show up to Wednesday’s town-hall style event. Being a part of the band since freshman year, Patterson has played clarinet, drums and trumpet at football games for her entire college career.
Patterson said she wanted to go to Wednesday’s event to check in on how the new stadium will impact the school band.
“I definitely wanted to make sure that the marching band was represented in this discussion,” Patterson said. “We’re a big part of the atmosphere at games. It’s nice joining with the student section and I’ve worked on some cheers with the ‘Cat Pack captains to try to be one big group that supports the team.”
McDonnell said he is excited for the opportunity to play in a new, state-of-the-art facility that Scarano said will include much improved concessions, restrooms and seating.
“I think it’s something that will be very special not for just our football program but for the whole university and the whole state,” McDonnell said. “As neat as it was to play under the lights here for the first time last year, it’s going to be really special to have an opportunity to play in such a great facility.”
McDonnell said the fact that his team will play in a new stadium won’t hit him until they play their first game there. But he said that experience will likely be similar to when UNH played its first home night game against Dartmouth last season on Sept. 27.
“When we walked out there last year for that first night game against Dartmouth, the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” McDonnell said. “Every place that we had played at night, we were going in as the enemy. But going in at night and seeing all the fans in the student section was pretty cool.”
UNH senior Peter Wilkinson is president of the ‘Cat Pack Captains. CPC is in its first full year as an official student organization. Wilkinson said the group’s mission is to increase UNH students’ pride and passion for their school. The organization has worked with UNH Athletics in the planning process to represent the student voice.
Wilkinson said he is “stoked” about the possibilities the new stadium brings.
“I absolutely love it. This stadium is exactly what this university needs and quite frankly what this university deserves right now. There’s been so much success across all our athletics programs over the years and it’s just transformed this place,” Wilkinson said.
“There’s been a culture shift. The students and their pride and passion for UNH have really increased over the last few years. And that stadium is going to allow it to flourish.”