Second go-around at the “new” stadium

The Gophers are more comfortable with their new home in its second season-opener, though student ticket sales lag from last year.

by Josh Katzenstein

Moving into a new house is often one of the more exhilarating moments in peopleâÄôs lives, but many questions arise during the early stages of the change. Most importantly, often, is how long itâÄôll take to feel comfortable in the new digs. MinnesotaâÄôs home opener against South Dakota on Saturday marks the 365th day since the Gophers played their first game at TCF Bank Stadium. A year after that ceremonious day, the new house finally feels like a home. âÄúLast year, by being a brand new stadium, everybody was excited to see what was in store and what we were going to do,âÄù junior running back Duane Bennett said. âÄúI think this year weâÄôre more settled and we know itâÄôs our home and weâÄôre rallying around each other, so itâÄôs not really as big of an excitement with the whole new stadium and everything. âÄúWe know that the stadiumâÄôs there. ItâÄôs brand new but right now itâÄôs a greater focus on more about us and the team than it is on the surrounding areas.âÄù Prior to last seasonâÄôs home opener against Air Force, the excitement level among the football team and its fans was high. The expectations were even higher. âÄúLast year opening up the stadium, thereâÄôs a lot of excitement, but I think we all felt a little let down with our side of what we needed to do of winning big games there and performing well,âÄù senior quarterback Adam Weber said. âÄúThis yearâÄôs a clean slate, and weâÄôre looking to go out there right off the bat and have a great game.âÄù Fans, though, donâÄôt seem completely confident the 2010 squad can improve on the 7-6 season Weber described as a let down. Last year the 10,000 student season tickets sold out before fall semester began. As of Tuesday afternoon, only about 8,000 had been sold, according to associate athletic director Jason LaFrenz. Around 1,500 seats remain available for SaturdayâÄôs game against South Dakota. Head coach Tim Brewster said he hasnâÄôt seen a change in the excitement level since last yearâÄôs home opener, which the Gophers won, 20-13 . He spoke to about 7,000 students at the stadium as part of the Welcome Week festivities and said all were eager for the home season to begin. âÄúWeâÄôre fired up,âÄù Brewster said about the team. âÄúWe are absolutely jacked about playing in TCF Bank Stadium, and I know our fans are excited about seeing us play in TCF on Saturday morning.âÄù Fans feeling at home in the second-year stadium might not be as comfortable with the players on the field come Saturday, with a notably different cast from a year ago. Nine starters return on offense for the Gophers (1-0), but senior offensive lineman Dominic Alford âÄôs indefinite suspension will carry through at least Saturday. Senior fullback Jon Hoese could also miss SaturdayâÄôs contest. His father Terry, 53, died Monday night after suffering a stroke less than two weeks ago. Zero regular starters from last season will be back on defense, unless safety Kim RoystonâÄôs left leg recovers by Saturday. Brewster said he has âÄúa chanceâÄù of playing but didnâÄôt sound optimistic. The other returning starter would have been safety Kyle Theret, but his indefinite suspension will also keep him out of SaturdayâÄôs game. The new faces on the team might not make much of a difference, considering South Dakota (0-1) plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) and went just 5-5 in 2009. Bennett said it doesnâÄôt matter who the Gophers are playing, though, and that the teamâÄôs mentality is to âÄústrike first and strike hard.âÄù That mindset might come easier than in last yearâÄôs home opener, which made senior offensive lineman D.J. Burris a bit nervous. But now the nerves are gone as the Gophers prepare to return home. âÄúThis is somewhere thatâÄôs special to us and itâÄôs kind of something that we can take pride in,âÄù Burris said. âÄúWe want to defend our home field here.âÄù