Martin Parker has been a defensive lineman for the University of Richmond football team since he redshirted as a freshman five years ago, and yet he has never played a real home game.
“I know I want to be the first one to get the sack in Robins Stadium,” Parker said. “I want to be the first one to make the first tackle.”
The planning for E. Claiborne Robins Stadium has been almost a decade in the making, and the stadium will finally host Richmond football’s on-campus premiere Saturday.
“This really gives us a chance to play at home,” head coach Latrell Scott said. “We’re excited about playing in front of our students, our fans and our alumni.”
Scott joined Richmond football last December as one of the youngest Division-I head football coaches ever, and opened the Spiders’ season with a 34-13 loss against the University of Virginia. Scott said the players hadn’t been discouraged by the loss so much as invigorated.
“Most people say the biggest improvement is between week one and week two,” Scott said. “If that’s the case, these young guys should be better, and we’ll be better as a staff.”
The team started 14 players who had never started a college game, and a new quarterback, Aaron Corp, who transferred in January from the University of Southern California. Corp had only started one college game, but Scott said he had not been worried.
“We’ll just continue to go out and do the things that we do,” he said. “We’ll make a few adjustments, but we’ll be the same people every day.”
The Spiders had a bye week last weekend, and Parker said they had been using that extra time to work out problems and get excited.
“Our biggest goal is to come out and be better than we were against Virginia,” he said. “We’re worried about Richmond this week, and that’s all.”
Robins Stadium, with 8,700 seats, is more than ready to welcome Richmond football home to a sold-out game against Elon University. Students claimed about 2,200 of the tickets to the opener.
Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, said he felt the Gameday Committee, formed to organize everything relating to the big day, had thought of every possible issue.
“We’ve even gotten things to put the dirty charcoal in,” Bisese said
Bisese and his committee have handled everything from parking to alcohol policies to alumni relations.
“Most of [the issues have] been over parking, because we’ve had to figure out adjusting roads to handle traffic flow,” Bisese said. Bisese said they had also considered student concerns and tailgating.
“Altogether, we really have done more planning for the game in giving students more opportunities than most schools probably would,” he said.
Students packed Robins Stadium Wednesday night for a pep rally including performances by the SpinnURs and the cheerleading squad.
Alison Bartel Keller, associate director for student activities and director of Greek life, has been in charge of student concerns for the new stadium.
“I think everybody’s just excited to get the season started on campus,” Keller said. “This was a way to get everybody pumped.”
Eric Knowles, RC ’11, and Michael Cerepak, RC ’14, designed spirit shirts handed out to students at the pep rally.
The 500 shirts were gone in about 10 minutes, leaving a lot of students shirtless. Rachel Steinberg, WC ’11, who coordinated the shirts as a member of the Gameday committee, said they were ordering more shirts.
Scott addressed the crowd of red with words of advice for game day.
“I need all of you to get up a little early,” he said, “and get your tailgate started a little early. I really need all of you to come out and get that Spider Walk lined.”
Parker told the crowd the team was trying to start a new tradition of running over to the student section before the start of each half.
“I’m going to ask all of you, ‘Will we ever quit?’” Parker said. “And your response is going to be: ‘Hell no! We want some more, we want some more, we want some more!’”
President Edward L. Ayers said he was thrilled about the pep rally and the stadium opening.
“Watching this from the day they tore the old stadium down as we drove back from that national championship, to this, has been an amazing thing to see,” Ayers said. “There are 6,000 bricks here, every one of them dedicated to a tremendous future.”
After 81 years of playing at UR Stadium, Parker said he thought Richmond football was ready for the real thing.
“I remember coming in freshman year, we didn’t have pep rallies,” Parker said. “The school spirit wasn’t that high, but now there are people walking around with football gear on. It would be amazing if we could ‘red out’ the stadium. People have been waiting for this for a long time.”