September 13, 2013 in Sports

Cougars make home debut as facilities work progresses

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – The RVs pulled into town on Thursday, the customary time of arrival prior to a Washington State home football game.

That much hasn’t changed. But plenty in and around Martin Stadium has transformed since the Cougars last played there in November, signs of WSU’s facilities upgrades nearly everywhere you turn. The Cougars (1-1, 1-0 in Pac-12) host Southern Utah (2-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in their home opener.

The largest of the stadium’s additions – and the most obstructive as far as game days are concerned – is the construction in the stadium’s west end of a $61 million football operations building, which is scheduled to be completed about eight months from now. It began as a large hole in the ground after the demolition of the Hollingbery Annex and the removal of several dozen dump trucks worth of dirt.

It’s since been shaped into a fairly impressive collection of framework, and workers are currently completing the foundation of the fifth (top) floor. A massive crane that required approval from the Federal Aviation Administration still sits in the middle of it all, and will be removed upon completion.

Fans, however, will be temporarily inconvenienced by the presence of construction this season, and not just because the removal of bleachers in the west end zone reduced slightly the stadium’s capacity to 32,740. Because of the scope of the project, the west side of Martin Stadium is closed, meaning no access to Gate I, the gate closest to the northwest corner used by students. The new student entrance will be Gate A, and fans accessing the north side of the stadium are encouraged by WSU to enter through Gates A or B. The south side can be accessed through Gates E, F, G or H.

(The only entrance on the west side that’s even open to players and coaches during practice is a narrow pathway that leads into the seats through the southwest corner of the stadium, but it would be logistically impossible to allow fans access through that area. Cougville will still be held on the available remaining space at Rogers Field.)

Then there are the new, nearly $3.5 million, scoreboards. The old, primary board is gone and a new one has been constructed on the east end of the stadium. Twice the size of the previous scoreboard, this one features an LED, HD display, and is accompanied by a pair of smaller ribbon boards beneath it.

A longer LED ribbon board has also been added to the façade of the premium seating structure on the south side of the stadium. And the sound system, which has been tested frequently throughout the week, will be a noticeable upgrade from the old one.

That much, the fans will enjoy. WSU and coach Mike Leach are focused elsewhere – such as Southern Utah’s running game, and the pursuit of a 2-1 start to the season – though the Cougars say they’re happy to be back at home after two tough games in Auburn and Southern California.

“It’s very exciting, just coming back for our fans. There’s no other feeling than being a Coug,” said senior defensive tackle Ioane Gauta. “We’re excited for this home game.”

Gauta and others were impressed by the showing of 50 or so fans who gathered outside the Bohler athletic complex just before 4 a.m. Sunday to welcome the team buses back after WSU’s win over USC.

Fewer than 3,000 tickets remained for Saturday’s game as of earlier this week.

“There was a flag at the airport when we landed,” Leach said of Sunday’s arrival. “I heard it was pretty exciting around here. They said College Hill was really roaring, and somebody a hill or two over said they could hear all the yelling on College Hill. It had to be a lot of fun to be a part of.”

They hope the same can be said Saturday after the Cougars get to play here again.

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