Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford has game day timed out to the minute, every detail accounted for right up to kickoff. But he also has been through this program rebuild deal before. Cal, 2002. That was a job, as is his alma mater, a work still in progress. It’s about more than wins on the football field, it’s also about butts in the seats, engagement. So changing up that schedule to try to get to both is a worthy investment.
Tedford this season altered the Bulldogs’ pre-game routine by five minutes, extending what they call March to Victory, a walk around and eventually into the stadium, winding through prime tailgate areas around the stadium.
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At 4:20 p.m. Saturday before the Bulldogs open their season against Idaho, the players will exit their dining hall and walk around the west side of the stadium, through the White Lot and enter the north end of the stadium, exiting to the locker room.
“I timed it,”Tedford said. “It takes us 15 minutes, 14:50-something, to get from there back to the locker room.”
It fell a bit flat last season when the Bulldogs walked just outside and around the east side of the stadium, though it wasn’t quite as bad as when he started the tradition at Cal.
“We did it at Oregon all the time and it was really engaging and packed,” Tedford said. “So the very first time I did this at Cal, I told the guys, ‘OK, we’re going to do this’ and there was one guy sitting in a lawn chair with a beer in a holder when we got out there and he gave us one clap, like that … clap.”
Tedford paused here, for effect. One clap, his palms sticking together. Then, nothing.
“Our kicker was walking next to me and he says, ‘Wow, that’s big time, coach,’“ Tedford laughed.
It grew, though, along with the Golden Bears’ program. Tedford inherited a team that was 1-10 and in his first three seasons went 7-5, 8-6 and then 10-2, climbing as high as No. 4 in the Associated Press’ Top 25.
“Over the years it grew to where everybody knew what time we were getting there and the thing was packed with families and the band,” Tedford said. “It just grew into something that really was kind of cool. So we’ll see how it goes.
“But I think it’s great for the players to be able to get the energy of the fans.”
Hopefully, Tedford said, the Bulldogs can get some juice from their fans and those fans can engage with the players as they get ready on game days.
Eventually, maybe the marching band takes part, the cheerleaders.
Fresno State this season surpassed a goal of 2,000 new season ticket sales and its season ticket base is back above 16,000. But the Bulldogs’ opener against Idaho is far from a sellout, a once formidable fan base still slow to engage despite a 10-4 season a year ago that included their first bowl victory since 2007.
“I think it’s really important,” Tedford said. “Any time you can interact with the fans, especially before a game, fans have an effect on players. If they can walk through there and get a lot of positive energy and support from the fans it makes the players feel really good about what they’re getting ready to get into.
“Everywhere I’ve been, it has always been a lot of fun and it has been a motivator for the players and the fans, really. When I did this at Cal, the band is there and they’re going and the fans are there and the cheerleaders are there and the whole thing is just really cranking. But, that had to grow, too.”