The bonfire wasn’t the only thing lighting up the night at East Tennessee State University Wednesday night.
School spirit returned to campus in a big way as the student body and supporters of the new football team celebrated together on the eve of the sport’s official return to the school.
A pep rally, complete with the bonfire and an appearance by the school’s newly rebooted marching band, was held on the future site of ETSU’s new football stadium, with plenty of people drawn to revel in the atmosphere.
ETSU hosts Kennesaw State tonight at Kermit Tipton Stadium in a long awaited — and sold out — game.
“I’m really excited,” said Elizabeth Rees, a junior from Knoxville. “I wasn’t really into football when I was in high school, but being at a school with a football team is really cool.
“There’s a lot more energy around campus. People weren’t really fired up about the other teams. We didn’t have huge pep rallies like this. It shows we have a lot more school spirit when we have a football team. It definitely feels different.”
As the band marched in along with cheerleaders, the football players and coaches were right behind.
“I love this,” said Keanu James, a defensive back on the team. “Everybody is excited about it all. This is something coming back to the community that they really missed. A lot of people are out here enjoying themselves.”
During the festivities, Carl Torbush, the Bucs’ head coach, spoke to the crowd. Also, the newest version of ETSU’s mascot Bucky was unveiled.
Andrea Burk, a senior from Knoxville, said she didn’t know what to expect when she learned that football was returning to ETSU.
“It’s happening so fast, it’s amazing,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow. The hype is amazing. The community and school are just very excited. The apparel ... everyone’s so excited wearing the brand. You can see a complete change on campus.”
About 8,000 people are expected to attend the game. Football fans lined up long before the pep rally to snatch the final 500 standing-room tickets.
Jamie Roquemore of Erwin and his friend Chad Bennett, of Johnson City, were the first two in line. They lined up around 3:40 p.m. for tickets that went on sale at 7.
“It was worth it,” Roquemore said. “We weren’t missing this game for nothing, but we almost did. I would have been watching from behind the fence if we didn’t get tickets.”
Not everyone got tickets. When the supply was gone, an announcement was made, which drew some sour looks from people still in line.
There were also some smiles when some members of the Kappa Delta Sorority learned they had gotten the last tickets.
“We didn’t even know we were going to be the last ones,” said Chelsea Josey, another Knoxville native. “We got our tickets and they said there weren’t any more left. I’m so excited. Football’s my favorite sport because my brother plays at another college (Tusculum).”
John Patrick Lego, who played for the Bucs from 1988-92, drove in from Hampton, Virginia, to show his support. He enjoyed the pep rally and couldn’t wait for tonight’s game.
“I wouldn’t have been anywhere else in the world than here,” he said. “I love this place. I graduated in 1992. It brought tears to my eyes when they dropped it and again when they brought it back. I bleed blue and gold.”