Fans and athletes flocked to LaVell Edwards Stadium on March 27 for the first time since BYU football’s 2014 season ended. Before the “Friday Night Lights” scrimmage began, fans were invited to join some of the football players on the field for a kids’ clinic while other players signed autographs beneath the stands. The event was “part football, part fan fest, part fan appreciation,” according to BYU head Coach Bronco Mendenhall.
During an hour-long clinic, kids dressed head-to-toe in BYU gear joined the athletes in running drills as their similarly dressed parents cheered and filmed the action. The kids ran sprints, side-stepped obstacles, caught passes and attempted to kick field goals alongside players. They could even watch themselves practice, as the footage was broadcast on the stadium video boards. Meanwhile, a massive line snaked around the concourse for autographs and conversations with favorite players.
Tim Johnson drove from Idaho with his kids, wife, brother, father and friend just for the clinic and scrimmage. He said BYU football helps them bond, and they love sharing their passion for the team with their children. Johnson added that the kids were thrilled to interact with the athletes and practice football on the field. “I’d love for them to go the athletic route — if that’s what they want, of course,” Johnson said.
Friday Night Lights was memorable, because there’s no other time where fans interact so personally with the football players and coaches. But the interaction wasn’t just a treat for the fans; the athletes loved giving back to their youngest supporters too. Defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi specifically enjoyed the clinic, because he participated in similar events as a kid.
“I think events like the clinic are important, because every player that was on the field can relate to the kids,” Kaufusi said. “They’re just excited to see college football players, excited to run out on the field with the lights and have fun. It’s a way to give back and remember where we came from.”
Wide receiver Terenn Houk echoed Kaufusi’s feelings about why interacting with the kids is significant for both the players and participants.
“I didn’t realize how much they look up to us,” Houk said. “It reminds me why we do it. Football is going to end sometime, but I’m just glad I came to BYU, because it’s teaching me to become a better person. These relationships, these interactions with people, are what make a difference.”
On-field activities for older fans followed the clinic. Members of the ROC student section competed to win scholarships and free parking in the fall by throwing foam footballs. Media personnel, former players and students then competed in catching high-flying footballs.
The event’s focus on fan participation successfully hyped the crowd for the upcoming season and emphasized how important the fans are.
“Even though tonight’s game has no impact on the team’s season, it’s always fun for the fans to unite in support of the football team,” ROC committee member Brooke Morrison said. “The players tell us all the time that they notice a difference when there is a strong ROC presence, and activities like today give the players a way to show their appreciation directly to the fans.”
The lack of regular-season pressure created a casual atmosphere during the scrimmage portion of the evening. Smiling players had their families nearby, and one former player even brought his puppy to the sidelines. Kids called to athletes from the front row, and a few bold boys convinced quarterback Taysom Hill to throw them the towels that hung from his uniform.
Friday Night Lights was a significant indicator of BYU’s 2015 prospects, and it gave new players a chance to play in the stadium in front of a crowd. If anything, though, it whet Cougar fans’ appetites for the season and gave them the strength to withstand an entire football-less summer.