Memorial Stadium flooded with red on Saturday night as thousands of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students lined up at the gates for the second annual Boneyard Bash, put on by the Iron N student section group. The football practice session, open only to students, draws fans with free T-shirts, gift cards and food.
This year, the Iron N invited a special guest: DJ Kool.
“Bringing in DJ Kool is a pretty unique thing we’re doing,” said Mitch Piel, vice president for student involvement and Iron N football coordinator. “His song (“Let Me Clear My Throat”) marked a big moment last year at both the Michigan State game and Wisconsin game when we played it. It’s something we’re going to build on this year and make unique to Nebraska.”
The Boneyard Bash was a smash hit last season, Piel said, so Coach Mike Riley encouraged the group to bring it back for a second year. The Iron N’s goal is to bring Husker athletics and students together, and Piel thinks the Bash was a perfect example of it.
“I think having something like the Boneyard Bash is going to encourage people to go to games, no matter if the game is a big one or not,” Piel said. “And it shows what kind of atmosphere the student section has on game days.”
UNL freshman Logan Volk isn’t a Nebraska native, so for him the Boneyard Bash was a way to get a feel for what’s coming next weekend.
“I think tonight is a bit of a preview of the kind of energy you can see on gameday so that you have more people hyped up, especially for out-of-state students who have never been to a game.”
Sophomore Michael Eesley said last year he came mostly for the free food. He didn’t realize that the event was football-based, but because of it, he’s now a loyal football attendee.
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“I think tonight definitely has an impact on numbers (at future games),” Eesley said. “A lot of people came here just for the free shirt, just because it’s something cool, but then they’ll see the whole practice and be hooked.”
It’s recently been a challenge to sell out of student season tickets, but Soukup predicted the event would be effective in bringing in more students to games. Soukup, who is a resident assistant at the University Suites, tried to bring several of her freshman residents to Saturday’s Bash, especially those who haven’t purchased tickets. She’s had many residents tell her how nervous they are about attending.
“A lot of them are just like ‘there’s so many people,’” she said. “We got here at 6 just to beat the crowd.”
In addition to the freshman intimidation, Soukup credits advances in technology with flagging student numbers.
“Now with television you can stream the games on multiple sites and on the radio; you don’t have to be there to watch,” she said. “But I do think that Husker football is a little different because of the atmosphere and the energy that’s in the stadium. You can’t get that energy anywhere else.”
Another deterrent to student attendance is the dry campus rule, with some students opting to stay downtown where alcohol is permitted. Volk also wondered whether recent changes to coaching staff or overall season records had affected attendance.
Piel said the atmosphere in Memorial Stadium alone should be enough to draw people in.
“I’ve gone to away games at Michigan State and Wisconsin, and the atmosphere there isn’t remotely close to ours,” Piel said. “The stands fill up, but it takes a while for fans to get there. It’s really unique for us to fill 90 thousand seats before the game even starts.”
He added: “There’s a huge reason we have home field advantage, and it’s because 90,000 fans scream every Saturday. It makes a huge difference. Just having a packed stadium every week, that’s what Nebraska’s known for. Being able to fill the stadium says a lot about our fans and it says a lot about the school in general.”
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