by Todd Marver Sports Columnist
As July winds down the attention of the ISU student body quickly shifts from summer to the beginning of school.
For the Redbird football squad, the flipping of the calendar means the start of fall training camp with the first game of the season just around the corner at the end of the month on Aug. 29 at Ball State.
The $25 million Hancock Stadium renovation has generated quite a buzz and there is sure to be a large crowd in attendance for the home opener against Abilene Christian on Sept. 21.
The brand-new 13,000-seat facility will also serve as a point of pride for alumni and students driving down Main Street to enter the ISU campus, as opposed to the previous eyesore that was in its place.
Redbird alumni and the Bloomington-Normal community have waited many years for a more substantial football facility and now that they have it, expect fans to come out in droves.
Factor in the team’s success last season, going 9-4 and advancing to the FCS Quarterfinals, and it is easy to see why the excitement level is at an all-time high.
Despite ISU’s seating capacity being limited to just 7,000 last season due to the construction, it is well worth the nearly doubled capacity now available. However, the reduced space last season resulted in more full capacity crowds, which is always a plus.
The Redbirds’ 2012 squad graduated five players who are in the NFL now, including Tyrone Walker, Matt Brown, Evan Frierson, Nate Palmer and Mike Zimmer, but they return an abundance of talent so the future looks bright.
Senior defensive end Colton Underwood, junior fullback Jordan Neukirch and junior longsnapper Chris Highland were named to Phil Steele’s FCS Preseason All-American Team. Senior offensive tackle Josh Aladenoye, in addition to Underwood and Neukirch, were first-team All-MVFC preseason picks.
Junior wide receiver Lechein Neblett and junior tight end James O’Shaughnessy were named to second-team All-MVFC preseason choices, while junior defensive back Mike Banks was a second-team pick on defense. The Sports Network also dubbed Underwood a preseason All-American and Buck Buchanan Award Watch List member.
The Redbirds have also received recognition in a pair of FCS top 25 preseason polls. The Sporting News ranked ISU No. 9, the third highest pick in the MVFC. The ’Birds were also picked No. 22 by Lindy’s, fifth-best in the MVFC.
In addition to the excitement surrounding the Hancock Stadium renovation and the promising future for ISU football, it is also great to see the squad performing better academically than ever before.
The Redbirds recorded the highest team cumulative grade-point average ever of 2.72 in the spring 2013 semester. Also, eleven team members received the MVFC Commissioners Academic Excellence Award.
Come out and support the Redbirds at their five home games in the 2013 season at 6 p.m. Sept. 21 against Abilene Christian, 2 p.m. Oct. 5 versus Western Illinois, 1 p.m. Oct. 19 against Indiana State, 1 p.m. Oct. 26 versus South Dakota and 1 p.m. Nov. 2 against Northern Iowa.