Changes abound for Duke football this year, both on and of the field. Quarterback Thomas Sirk has stepped in for the departed Anthony Boone and quickly ignited the Duke offense, posting an impressive performance—27 of 40 for 289 yards and two touchdowns—in the team’s dominant 37-7 victory at Tulane last week. The Blue Devils were also tasked with replacing standouts Jamison Crowder, Issac Blakeney and Laken Tomlinson on the offensive side of the ball.
But the new look around the Duke program this season is not limited to the different athletes in uniform. The fan experience for Blue Devil football may be the best yet and it is time for students to get ready to go full “Wade Wacko” in Wallace Wade Stadium.
The term “tailgate” as it relates to Duke football can conjure up a variety of images and memories depending on your age. For older students, Tailgate was a raging party—loosely tied to the football game occurring yards away—featuring outrageous costumes and general debauchery. Tailgate in that sense was outlawed in 2010 following an incident with alcohol involving a 14-year-old girl.
For the past five years, tailgating for football games has been essentially nonexistent for Duke undergraduates. Instead, students must walk past alumni partaking in classic pregame tailgating festivities with elaborate spreads right in front of Krzyzewskiville, having no such place to celebrate themselves. Although DevilsGate—the administration's watered-down solution to replace the original Tailgate—enjoyed limited success last season, the version approved by Duke Student Government this fall is a huge step toward the traditional association of tailgating for college football.
DevilsGate will move to a new location on the Main Quad of West Campus—just a short walk from Wallace Wade—featuring tents available for reservation by registered student groups. Vendors will provide free food and entertainment is also scheduled for throughout the season. The new DevilsGate will be supported by the Gatekeepers, who will be tasked with facilitating the experience and, ideally, leading the student section. The hope is that the Gatekeepers will be for Duke football what the Line Monitors have been for the basketball program, and the newly-adopted LDOC alcohol policies should help DevilsGate achieve the same social atmosphere as Kville.
Any great football program has a storied game-day experience for its student body and as Duke football continues to grow, the idea is that student support will, too. Tune into ESPN's College GameDay any Saturday morning, and you'll find thousands of dedicated fans lined up in the early hours of the morning to cheer on their schools—a sight not yet within the reach of David Cutcliffe's Blue Devils, but one not as unimaginable as it would have seemed even three years ago.
Inside Wallace Wade itself, a flashy high-definition video board and lowered bowl seating will give home games an updated look. A member of the Trinity class of 1970, Steve Brooks donated $13 million dollars to the athletic department last year and, in return, was honored with the renaming of the field as Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Everything about the field is new—from a completely flat surface to a new style of grass. A brand new turf called Latitude 36 Bermuda grass—advertised to be the ideal playing surface—was installed this summer. The turf was grown by Precision Turf in Georgia and shipped to Durham in strips, where Coach Cutcliffe oversaw its installation. Fans are also sure to notice the 42-by-75.6 foot video board that will play high-definition graphics and replays, as well as dispense fireworks following Duke touchdowns.
Continued renovations and the addition of a new tower will happen throughout the season and into the offseason, but Wallace Wade has already made tremendous strides toward being a state-of-the-art collegiate football stadium. The home of the 1942 Rose Bowl, Wallace Wade was one of the few remaining NCAA Division I football stadiums to still have a track. This past offseason, the historic track—where runners like four-time national champion Steve Prefontaine once raced—was removed and the seating bowl was extended down toward the newly-lowered field, adding a total of 3,000 new seats.
Hopefully, allowing the fans to be closer to the action inspires a more intimate game experience and a stronger home-field environment for the Blue Devils. Undergraduates constantly bemoan the pitfalls of construction on campus, yet football games this fall will offer the first opportunity to start enjoying some of the new additions. Come Saturday afternoon, head to DevilsGate—leave your outrageous costumes behind—throw on some Duke blue and head over to brand-new Wally Wade to cheer on the team. No one said we had to just be a basketball school anyways.
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