NAU’s running of the freshmen becomes a tradition
By: Travis Guy
NAU’s running of the freshmen may not be an original idea, but it is one that many involved with the program believe helps strengthen school spirit and gives freshmen a unique opportunity to participate in something not many other students get to.
“You know, we stole the idea, from, I think one of the schools in the SEC (Southeastern Conference),” said football head coach Jerome Souers. “I can’t remember who does it, but it wasn’t an original idea, but it’s a great idea.”
NAU began the tradition of the running of the freshmen in 2008, taking a page out of the Vanderbilt University Commodores’ book. First-year students get the opportunity to run onto the field of the Walkup Skydome before the football team’s home opener.
“What it does is it, you get an opportunity to welcome and embrace … the freshman students, upon their arrival on campus,” Souers said. “Running on the field at the start of a contest in football is historically an honor. You’re applauded and cheered by the fans … it’s a neat deal.”
Rocky Silvestri, marketing and special events director for NAU Athletics, has only been with the school for about a year, but hopes to grow the running of the freshmen, and other programs, into traditions that get students and fans excited for Lumberjack sporting events, even if they have to borrow some ideas from other schools.
“This will continue to grow and wouldn’t it be great to have the whole freshman class running out,” Silvestri said. “We are just doing a lot, really pushing Lumberjack country with a new athletic director onboard and myself as new, within the last year, just bringing some bigger elements from bigger schools and making sure that we are bringing them to NAU to make sure we are no different from anybody else.”
Nicole Bird, a junior business major, did not plan on participating in the event her first semester in Flagstaff, but one of her dormmates convinced her to come along, even if it was so she would not run alone.
“One of the girls in the dorms that I was living in my freshman year asked if I wanted to do it with her because she didn’t know anyone else doing it,” Bird said. “I had that freshman ‘sure, why not, lets do it’ [attitude].”
Coach Souers remembers the first time NAU did the running of the freshmen, and there were only a few hundred freshmen that ran on the field, compared to the 2011 home opening game, where it took nearly 10 minutes for all of the freshmen to get into the tunnel and run onto the field.
“The football team, themselves, absolutely love it,” Souers said. “It started out with several hundred and has grown to several, well, several thousand, I could not tell you how many. I think the first time we did it, it only took a couple minutes to get all the freshmen on the field before our team took the field. And then the last time we did it, I think we were about eight minutes and we had to, I’m not even sure we got all the freshmen all the way out. But it was really fun because they were body painted blue and gold, they were dressed up crazy like football fans do and [it gave] an opportunity for our football team to see them [and] to be able to applaud and honor them for coming, the guys way of saying thank you.”
For Bird, it was a chance to see the Skydome for the first time, and get a taste of college football from the players perspective.
“I didn’t realize how big the stadium was, so running in and just, you were just surrounded,“ Bird said.
And for Souers and the team, it is a way to make a connection with the freshmen and welcome them to the school.
“We want to, first of all, thank them for coming, acknowledge the importance of them being at our football games and then, by making sure their early experience was one that reflects enthusiasm and passion for their school and their sports,” Souers said. “To see it grow the way it has is a reflection of what that then brings [to NAU].”
Silvestri, along with new athletic director Lisa Campos and various coaches and athletes, have been making a push into the Flagstaff community to increase awareness and get more people to join “Lumberjack Country.”
“This summer, we made a bigger effort to get out into the Flagstaff community and the new student community,” Silvestri said. “Each orientation session we’ve had our new basketball coach Jack Murphy and a coach that has some history here whether it be Andre Luciano (soccer), Jerome Souers (football), or Andy Johns (swim and dive) teach the fight song.”
Silvestri’s main goal is to help grow “Lumberjack Country” and show your school spirit at all events.
“We don’t care if your going to an athletic event or a theater event or an art event, we just want you to be proud of where you are,” Silvestri said. “That you’re NAU and you’re a Lumberjack. Just being involved definitely achieves that [and] I just hope that this new infusion of spirit and pride and true blue NAU really gets the students going, whether, like I said, it’s at an athletic event, or something else on campus. Being a part of your college experience kinda of molds you to who you are. ”