When the Hickman and Rock Bridge football teams step onto Faurot Field tonight for the Providence Bowl, bright lights, a video screen and the roar of an estimated crowd of 10,000 will surround them.
It will be quite a change from their usual high school stadiums.
“It’s like going from a trailer to a mansion,” Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said. “No knock against what our facilities are or what any other high school facilities are, but there’s no comparison.”
Ofodile has the unique experience of playing at Faurot Field for MU and now coaching there as well. Despite the difference of being higher up than usual, Ofodile said he will still be in the press box calling the plays.
“The good thing about it, we’re going to get a perfect surface, great lighting, great angles for everything so it’s first class accommodations,” Ofodile said.
Rather than playing on natural grass, the teams will be playing on FieldTurf surface. Although both teams have played on the turf before, it will be an opportunity to test the type of surface the schools hope to install on their own fields next year. The Columbia school board recently approved a plan to use the artificial turf at both high school fields.
“I love it,” Gray said of the surface. “Everybody feels like they’re faster on it. You feel like you can just make moves and not worry about the surface.”
Bruins wide receiver Josh Conyers said he believes the surface plays to the Bruins’ strengths.
“We’re definitely a lot faster on it,” Conyers said. “Your cuts are a lot quicker too.”
Hickman quarterback Andrew Perkins said he doesn’t believe the surface makes much of a difference.
“It’s kind of just getting used to the surroundings,” Perkins said.
Getting used to the surroundings is also something Gray said surprised him a little last year.
“It’s kind of an eye opener at first ’cause in high school you don’t get a chance, in Missouri anyway, to play in front of a big-time crowd and big-time atmosphere like that,” Gray said.
Ofodile said his team needs to respond better to the surroundings this year, rather than become overwhelmed as it did in its 35-0 loss last year.
“We got a lot of guys that have a lot of aspirations to do a lot of things and this is the kind of stage that you want,” Ofodile said. “It’s a dream for a kid to play in this kind of venue.”
Another upgrade will be the college locker rooms at Memorial Stadium. Conyers said he enjoyed the MU locker rooms last year, complete with carpeting and nicer, more spacious lockers. Last year, the Bruins were in the home locker room while this year, the Kewpies will have that honor as the home team.
With a large crowd, players will have to adjust to the noise level, something Gray said never really bothers him at a high school field.
“The sound reverberates, so you get 10,000 people in there, even though it’s not a packed house, it’s still louder than anything you are ever going to get at a high school field with the open environment,” Ofodile said.
Gray said with all the amenities of a college stadium and the big crowd, it will feel like playing in a college game. Once the game starts and the players become focused in, the crowd becomes less of a factor, Ofodile said. Still, he said he is excited for his team.
“Not everybody gets a chance to play at that type of venue after high school, so to get that chance to do it in high school is outstanding,” Ofodile said.