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UND football leads the way in developing new traditions

UND football players Brock Boltmann, Brady Leach and Nate Ketteringham head for the Alerus Center field Wednesday as the Fighting Hawks prepare for Thursday night's season opener against Mississippi Valley State. Photo/Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

Two summers ago, UND football coach Bubba Schweigert gave an impassioned speech at the High Performance Center, asking fans to embrace the new Fighting Hawk logo that was unveiled.

He said, on the spot, that it would be on the football helmets that fall and hoped fans would join in on embracing the new tradition.

“I think it’s going well,” Schweigert said this week. “Many people who had strong feelings -- I was one of them -- for the previous name and logo felt it was time to move forward. It was something we needed to embrace and we asked people to join in and embrace.

“I don’t feel any ill will to those that struggle with that, because I understand the strong feelings when you play under a certain name or identity, but I just felt like our current athletes needed an identity. We have this logo now and I know what it stands for. It stands for excellence and what we’re trying to do in our program and the culture we’re trying to build.”

As the UND football team kicks off a new season against Mississippi Valley State University at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the Alerus Center, Schweigert is hoping that fans embrace some more new traditions that the program will introduce this fall.

It will start in the parking lot, where the tailgating section has been moved to east-west rather than north-south. That means people going through the main entrances on the south side of the building will walk through tailgating on their way in.

Then, the new traditions will continue with a “Freshman Run.”

UND freshmen will run through the inflatable helmet and to their seats at the start of the game. Students have been getting wristbands on campus to participate.

Schweigert said they used to do this at Southern Illinois, where he was previously the defensive coordinator.

“They do it every year,” Schweigert said. “Coach (Eric) Schmidt and I got to witness that. We thought it was a neat way to connect with the student body, especially the new students. I hope our freshmen take advantage of it, because I think it’s pretty cool that they get to run across the field. I hope they embrace it like they did at the previous place we saw it. It was a lot of fun.”

Schweigert said Southern Illinois used to get between 800 and 1,000 students to participate.

If it goes well, they’ll continue to do it before every home opener.

Later this season, UND will unveil its new mascot at a football game. UND hasn’t had a mascot since Thunder the Bleacher Creature in the early 1990s.

Schweigert hopes the fans embrace the new traditions that will be introduced this year, but he knows it ultimately comes down to winning games.

UND went 3-8 last year after going 9-3 in 2016.

“We as coaches know we have to win games to get support,” Schweigert said. “That’s the best way to do it. But there are also things that really help. Because athletics in this day and age, the fan experience is really important. Crowds want to be engaged and have things to do on their phones or during the game. I think we’re working toward that. The committee isn’t done yet. They’ve laid out a three- or four-year plan. To implement them all at once is a challenge, but they’ve made steps and really helped us the first couple years of the committee.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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