By James Kelley
CHRIS CODUTO / Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA football head coach Mike Stoops was the most popular autograph signer at Saturday's fan appreciation night. Stoops and the rest of the Wildcat football team signed autographs for fans, then played in their last open scrimmage before the home opener Sept. 4 against NAU.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, August 23, 2004
Excitement surrounds football team's first season under Stoops
Blue helmets aren't the only new thing at Arizona Stadium; suddenly Arizona football has become chic.
Ticket sales have jumped, commitments are piling up and the players are excited about the season starting.
"The support has been tremendous. These people have so much faith in us, hopefully we can come out and give them something to cheer about. They're hungry for a winner," said head coach Mike Stoops. "We're doing everything we can. Believe me, our kids have worked hard and I'm very proud of the way we work. You see all the things we are doing and in many different aspects of this program we have gotten better."
The Wildcats have noticed a definite attitude change.
"I think coach Stoops has brought the intensity back to the football team. He has also brought back a lot of discipline, bringing the fire back," said junior running back Mike Bell. "I really appreciate it and I think he is making us a better team."
"There's a lot more confidence, a lot more accountability on and off the field," said senior tight end Steve Fleming.
The fans have caught the excitement, too. Before the UA's advertising blitz of billboards and commercials began at the beginning of the month, Arizona had sold 5,000 more season tickets than last year.
"As a matter of fact, me and one of my fellow running backs went to the ticket office, to see how the ticket sales are going and see what fans were coming, and the NAU game is almost sold out," Bell said. "That's exciting; it is good to know that we have a lot of fan support. It will motivate me and the team just to play harder."
Junior Nic Costa was excited about the prospects of selling out the NAU game and was impressed with the turnout for the Wildcats' annual Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday. Attendance nearly doubled to 7,500 from last year's attendance of 4,100 when pop star Jessica Simpson performed.
"That's incredible, being the first game and being a non Pac-10 opponent, that's great for us," Costa said. "The turnout that we had (Saturday) was incredible. I've been here for a while and I don't think we've had that many people here for Fan Appreciation Night. Maybe last year, but that was because we had Jessica Simpson singing (laughs) but we didn't have anything like that tonight and they just came out because everybody is really excited about this team and the expectations are really high for this football team."
The last sell out at Arizona Stadium was when Ohio State and a strong contingent of Buckeye supporters came to town in 2000.
So far, only season tickets, student season tickets, flex packs, (two non-conference games plus two Pac-10 games) and group single game tickets have been on sale.
"Yeah the fans are great, we've been hearing about season ticket sales and you can just kind of feel the vibe throughout the summer and the turnout (Saturday) and through the last two weeks in practice has been tremendous," Fleming said.
The national media has also jumped on the Arizona football bandwagon. The UA and Stoops have been featured in ESPN the Magazine, the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and Sports Illustrated On Campus, with features on ESPN game day and SportsCenter to come.
In addition to the Arizona State game, always on Fox Sports Net National, FSN National has picked up the Wisconsin home game and the game at Southern California. Fox Sports Net Arizona picked up the NAU game while the Pac-10 opener against Washington State was moved up a week for ABC. It will be the UA's first appearance on that network since 2001.
"I think we're more excited," said Costa, comparing this year's team's attitude to last year's.