Cougar Nation put on an impressive display of fan support Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, showing up in full force in Coach Kalani Sitake’s head coaching debut.
A raucous BYU crowd of 30,000-plus, dressed in white gameday apparel, appeared to outnumber the Wildcat fans in attendance — despite the fact that Tucson is approximately 483 miles closer to Glendale than Provo. The stadium’s north section was a sea of white, with some pockets spilling over to occupy enemy territory in Arizona’s fan section.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game; BYU hasn’t been in the Phoenix Valley for a while,” said Derek Judd, a Cougar alumnus living in Tempe, Arizona, who was in attendance with friends from Las Vegas, Southern California and Utah.
Fans in attendance weren’t just from Arizona, however. Cougar fan Billy Freeland, who said he tries to travel to at least one away game a season, made the drive down from Lehi, Utah, with his family.
“We picked this one because we couldn’t wait to get to the next one,” Freeland said. “There’s a ton of excitement … we’re excited Jamaal Williams is back (and) hope to get a good running game this year.”
BYU sophomore Josh Starita was in attendance with his grandpa and cousin, who had made the gameday trip to Glendale earlier that morning.
“I just got back off my mission (in Lima, Peru), so I’m excited to see BYU football after two years and I’m excited to watch Taysom Hill in action,” Starita said.
Bolstering the fans’ excitement was the addition of a the program’s new coaching staff.
“I think (the new coaching staff) even made me more excited because I kind of feel like we capped out with our old coaching staff,” Starita said. “They were great and everything — they brought us to a certain level — and now I feel like we can even surpass that level now with this great new coaching staff and the experience they bring.”
Judd echoed Starita’s enthusiasm.
“I’ve always been a hard core BYU fan, so my loyalty level has remained the same, and I’ve always gone to as many games as I can, but the new staff has absolutely increased my excitement level by a large margin,” Judd said.
Brothers Tim and Mike Erickson met up at the game with similar excitement about the 2016 season.
“We try to make one a year,” said Tim, who lives in Las Vegas and graduated from BYU in 2012 with a degree in economics. “I’m really excited to see what (the new coaching staff has) to offer. It’s obviously a different philosophy, but with (Ty) Detmer coming back and with all that Sitake’s accomplished so far, I’m excited to see what they have.”
Mike, a BYU senior studying applied math, said he is most excited to see a revamped Cougar defense in 2016. “I feel like we’re going to (see) a really aggressive and tenacious defense,” Tim said. “I like the scheme that Sitake runs.”
The Cougars’ 18-16 win over the Wildcats means the fan excitement will carry over into BYU’s next game against rival Utah. Sitake will work to end the program’s five-game losing streak against the Utes this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City.