Anticipation builds as return of Aggie football nears

Anticipation builds as return of Aggie football nears

Photo Credits: BRENDAN OGBURN / AGGIE

UC Davis looks to keep positive momentum going on, off field

It would be an understatement to say that the anticipation and eagerness surrounding the UC Davis football program is higher than it’s been in many years.

Friday evening’s fan fest on Aug. 16 was a culmination of the budding optimism and rapidly-growing momentum centered around the football team, and the rest of the athletic department for that matter, heading into the 2019 season.

UC Davis football has been making strides both on and off the field in recent years, paving the way for a bright future and many more memorable seasons in Davis.

The highlight of the Aug. 16 event was the official renaming of the Aggies’ home field as UC Davis Health Stadium and the subsequent unveiling of new signage at the front gate. 

With most of the football roster standing by in their navy-blue home jerseys, Director of Athletics Kevin Blue made his opening remarks to a sizable crowd of fans and season ticket holders on hand, expressing his excitement for the upcoming campaign while making recognition of the incredible progress the program has made in such a short period of time.

Blue, entering his fourth year at the helm of intercollegiate athletics, was a pivotal figure in establishing a 20-year, expanded partnership with UC Davis Health back in November. The agreement spearheaded the funding for a new 38,000-square foot student-athlete performance center and practice facility, which will be located next to UC Davis Health Stadium on the corner of Hutchison Drive and La Rue Road.

“The facility will have several components, including a sports medicine facility for the student-athletes, a new strength and conditioning facility, a home for our student-athlete academic and career development work and several other functional areas,” Blue said.

Along with the help of UC Davis Health, other significant contributions from donors and alumni, including a school-record donation from notable football alumnus Bruce Edwards, came together to pick up the tab on the estimated $40M project, now in its early stages of construction.

“Success in the modern era of Division I football requires contributions from everyone associated with the university and we’re very appreciative of the support all of you [the fans] have provided for the team,” Blue explained.

Later on in the ceremony, third-year head coach Dan Hawkins stepped up to the microphone and made a point to acknowledge this gracious off-field support, while revealing that UC Davis had the 80th-most athletic donations amongst both FBS and FCS teams last year, a group comprised of over 200 schools.  

“Each one of you matters and every seat at [UC Davis Health] Stadium means a lot,” Hawkins said. “I’ve been at a few places along the way that have experienced some building, and we are a lot farther ahead and have so much more potential.”

Hawkins reiterated that this type of backing not only helps the current team, but enables future Aggies to get the esteemed UC Davis “experience” he frequently speaks of, in regards to a world-class education and the chance to play Division I sports.

“We have so much potential and room to grow here,” Hawkins declared. “What you’re doing here with this new practice facility is amazing and it fuels their fire, my fire and future Aggie fires.”

In addition to spurring the construction of this new state-of-the-art facility for student-athletes, Blue pointed out that the new partnership and stadium name will “increase brand awareness and visibility for UC Davis Health” through the many ways in which fans consume UC Davis football action, both inside the stadium and on television around the world.

Chancellor Gary May also addressed the crowd and stressed the importance of branding within the university.

“Today we celebrate not just outstanding football, but teamwork that stretches all the way across the university and a collaboration that makes us thrive as scholars, athletes and just plain Aggies,” May said. “No matter what side of the Causeway we’re on, we are all on the same team, and that’s what we’re showing with UC Davis Health Stadium. This spirit is only going to get stronger.”

While there was lots of praise to go around for the recent off-field developments, much of the focus on Friday evening centered around the upcoming season and the Aggies’ looming season opener against the California Golden Bears on Aug. 31 in Berkeley.

Despite their close proximity, these two California public institutions have only met on the gridiron ten times in their history, with the most recent match-up being a 52-3 victory for the Golden Bears in 2010.

May, a UC Berkeley alumnus himself, made a pitch to the players to give their best effort and make UC Davis proud.

“I got some trash talking to do on Saturday night, so don’t let me down!” May said.

Hawkins, who took the podium a few minutes later, couldn’t help himself, throwing a playful jab in the direction of UC Berkeley.

“We have some great challenges ahead of us, and we get a chance to play the lesser of the two Cal schools here in Northern California,” Hawkins joked, drawing a loud roar and applause from the crowd.

After that challenging showdown in week one, the Aggies will also get a crack at North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS National Champions, when they travel to the FargoDome in week four. UC Davis fell just two victories shy of reaching last year’s National Championship where they would have faced the mighty Bison, a team that’s remained atop the FCS world for seven of the past eight seasons.

After non-conference play concludes, the Aggies will have their work cut out for them in a brutal Big Sky conference slate of games. Some of the notable opponents on the schedule include Montana, Southern Utah, Weber State and Montana State, in addition to rivalry games against Cal Poly and Sacramento State.

When the dust settles, UC Davis hopes to capture its second consecutive league title and make a return to the FCS playoffs in December. Last year was undoubtedly one of the greatest seasons in the program’s 101-year history, but many people around the team believe the Aggies have only scratched the surface.

“We’re looking forward to the season and it’s gonna be exciting,” Hawkins said. “We’ve talked about creating a season to remember and our guys have busted their tails all summer doing a great job in camp.”

By the end of Friday’s fan fest, it was exceedingly apparent that UC Davis is in an excellent position to do something truly special, not only this season but in many years to come. The Aggies are ready to write themselves into the history books and dive headfirst into this new, exciting era of athletic prosperity.

Written by: Brendan Ogburn — sports@theaggie.org