The stakes have never been higher.
With the football team coming off its first National Championship, University of Richmond students and fans from across the country are anxiously waiting to watch the Spiders make another run at the title. But with great success comes high expectations, and in many ways, this football season could affect the program for years to come.
The football culture at Richmond has already undergone monumental changes since the national championship last December. Our team was shown on ESPN2, our coach won the Football Championship Subdivision Coach of the Year award and construction began on our new, state-of-the-art on-campus stadium. Heck, we even have Coke cans with our logo on them.
OK, so maybe Coke cans aren't going to change the course of Richmond football history, but the changes in attitude about our football program are already obvious.
On Saturday, when the team travels to Duke University for the season opener, it won't be alone. The Campus Activities Board, Richmond Rowdies and the student senates teamed up to offer fan buses to the game, and they quickly sold out. Two hundred seventy-five students, largely freshmen, will crowd onto five buses for the trip to Durham. Many other students have purchased game tickets on their own and will make the drive for the game. That means more than 10 percent of our student body will likely be in attendance for a non-conference football game that is being played in another state.
As a junior, I have seen the past two football seasons begin without much fan fare. But as I sat at the student activities fair last week and watched freshman after freshman walk up with their $15 in hand to reserve a ticket to the game, I realized just how much things had changed during one year.
That's a great sign. It means that people have noticed the unprecedented things this team has done during the past few seasons. It means people care about Richmond football. It means school spirit, pride in our program, is probably at an all-time high.
The difficulty is that as quickly as the football team rose to popularity, it could just as quickly fade back into just another excuse to wear pastels. With the stadium set to open next season and many of the seniors set to move on from their Richmond careers, this year's team will determine whether fans are wearing red and blue and cheering in the stands - or wearing sky blue and pink and drinking in the parking lot.
The major difference between this season and last is the expectations. Even with a talented team, we used to hope the team would win. Now, we expect them to win.
The team is ranked preseason No. 1 in the Sporting News poll and No. 2 in the Football Championship Subdivision Coaches poll. It returns 16 starters from last year's championship team and sports six preseason All-Americans. It also has one big target on its back and one tough schedule in front of it.
During the next two and a half months, the football team will be the biggest story on campus. Home games will bring big crowds excited to see the Spiders win. Road games will bring big crowds excited to watch the national champs lose. Either way, people won't be showing up for just the tailgates any more.
As the season wears on, there will inevitably be ups and downs. The important thing is that the ups outweigh the downs. With all of the positive press and publicity around the program right now, we can't afford to let it die down.
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If the Spiders play to their potential this year and give Spider football fans a third-straight season to remember, the program will have established itself as a national FCS power for years to come. If not, we might miss the best opportunity the program has ever had.
But the chance to build the program into something special doesn't lie just with the players. It's also on the fans.
If students and other fans can turnout at home the way they will at Duke this weekend, we might actually be able to fill more than a few sections of UR Stadium. If that happens, imagine the fun that could be had when the games are only a green bike ride away.
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at email@example.com
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