Minium: ODU's Football Team Practiced for the First Time at the new Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
The sunset was a thing to behold as red light reflected off of distant clouds. As has been the case for nearly day over the last nine months, construction workers were sawing, hammering and welding well into the night.
The lights and two ribbon scoreboards were on at Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium as was, for the first time, the huge TowneBank Video Board. An aside here: the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs recently installed the same video board in its stadium.
Then, at 7:59, Old Dominion’s football team was led onto the field by coach Bobby Wilder. There was a palpable sense of wonder and excitement from coaches and players as they sprinted to the benches.
Stone Smartt, a junior college transfer from California, warms up Monday night at Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium
Although only a few dozen football support people and reporters were there to see, it was an historic event. It was the first time the Monarchs took the field at the new stadium, which was built to last 50 or 100 years.
Footballs were being tossed, passed and kicked and defensive players were making tackles for the first time in ODU’s new stadium, which in the final stages of a $67.5 million reconstruction.
For nearly nine months there has been a feverish array of demolition of old Foreman Field and reconstruction of a mammoth, modern stadium in its place. Field Turf managed to complete installation of the new turf last week, a few days early, and that allowed the Monarchs to get on the field Monday.
“In order to have a home field advantage, we have to get accustomed to our new home,” Wilder said. “I’d like to thank everyone involved who worked to make sure we had that chance.”
The scrimmage itself was pretty routine. There were few mistakes, few penalties and no major injuries. It’s clear that ODU has three mobile and large quarterbacks, all with good throwing arms, who will play this season.
The defense could be much improved this season while the offense, which has newcomers at most positions, has a lot of work to do.
But the subject everyone wanted to talk about afterwards it the new stadium. The west side stands 94 feet tall, nearly twice as high as Foreman Field, and the stadium itself appears enormous, far larger than its expected seating capacity of 22,480.
The west side of Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium
Lawrence Garner, the junior linebacker who may be ODU’s best returning players, says stepping into the new stadium was a shocking experience for the Monarchs.
“This is going to be 100 times better” than Foreman Field, he said.
“You actually feel like you’re in a stadium, not a place with small bleachers on this side and small bleachers on the other.
“This is going to be a different environment. The home field advantage is going to be so much better.”
Wilder said he could sense his players were psyched to be in the stadium for the first time.
“I could feel their energy tonight,” he said. “They’re excited having the new stadium and there are so many good things here are going to be impactful.
“If we have a full house, and the crowd is really into it, that’s the most important thing for our players.”
He’s hoping ODU fans will feel the same energy. The stadium is not something that can be appreciated from videos or photographs. If you’ve been overseas to see the Brandenburg Gate or the Eiffel Tower, you know what I mean.
You have to see it in person.
Coach Bobby Wilder talks to his players during their first time ever on the turf at Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
This stadium looks like a Power 5 facility, and will alter the perception of ODU football once people get a good look.
“I’m hopeful that it will re-energize our fan base,” Wilder said. “I think it will give them a sense of energy. The amenities for fans are going to be so much better.”
Recruiting, he said, should also improve.
“Having recruits come into this venue, that’s not an advantage we had before,” he said.
Tim Kovacs, ODU’s director of football operations, is thinking of hosting recruits 94 feet in the air in a University suite, where there is a breathtaking view of downtown Norfolk, the ODU campus and the Norfolk harbor.
It’s the kind of view that few college football stadiums offer.
Stone Smartt, a quarterback from California, said “I feel like the first game, and all season, the stadium will be rocking.”
Steven Williams Jr., who is playing at both quarterback and wide receiver, stared up at the stands and press box as he waited to be interviewed.
Steven Williams Jr., shown here warming up Monday, says ODU's new stadium "is amazing."
“Now we’ve got that huge big screen,” he said. “It’s amazing. The fans are going to love it. And the fans are going to be much, much closer to us. They’re right on top of the field.”
He reflected back on the biggest moment in ODU football history, when the Monarchs shocked No. 13 Virginia Tech, 49-35, last season with a record home crowd screaming with delight.
“If people think the Virginia Tech game was loud, imagine putting that crowd in this stadium. We’re going to feel it and the away team is going to feel it too.”
James Valle III, a redshirt sophomore defensive end from Burtonsville, Md., walked back onto the field after getting dressed and took a video of the stadium to send to his family.
“You can tell the atmosphere is going to change drastically,” he said. “I feel like the first game the roof is going to blow off the place. I mean, this has finally given us a home.
“We greatly appreciate everyone who’s contributed to this project, whether it be construction workers, donors or coaches.
“It’s a beautiful sight to see now that it’s all finished.”
Indeed it is.
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