CLEVELAND - Summer for football players is time to sharpen their skills. As displayed yesterday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, those exercises don't always take place on the field.
Coach Gregg Brandon and several Bowling Green State University football players from the Cleveland area visited the site of their season opener against Wisconsin on Sept. 2 to help spread the word about the game.
Loren Hargrove, a junior safety from Berea, Ohio, spoke eloquently about the chance to reach out to fans and alumni in northeast Ohio. It turns out he's majoring in sports management.
Junior running back Dan Macon, a broadcast journalism major from Sagamore Hills, sent a videotaped message to his hometown church, Mount Zion of Oakwood Village, asking members to come to the game. As of yesterday 700 of them had bought tickets.
The players had lunch with BGSU alumni who work with local businesses and asked them to help generate interest. From Browns employees to those with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the people the players met got junior Kory Lichtensteiger thinking.
"It's kind of late now, I might have to change my major from criminal justice," Lichtensteiger said. "All these connections here, it would be nice."
The game, a rematch of last year's 56-42 Wisconsin victory, will be the first Division I-A football game in Browns Stadium, which opened in 1999.
"It's a great opportunity for our program to showcase our skills in a venue like this," Brandon said.
Several similar deals are popping up all around the Mid-American and Big Ten Conferences. In upcoming years, Northern Illinois and Iowa are playing at Soldier Field in Chicago, Eastern Michigan and Northwestern are playing at Ford Field in Detroit, and the University of Toledo and Ohio State are playing at Browns Stadium. The MAC-Big Ten scheduling pact will show its effects this season.
"This year we're hosting four Big Ten teams," MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said. "In our previous 59 years we had only hosted six, in our history."
Working with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the MAC hopes to have a game in Browns Stadium every year, Chryst said. Although BGSU will have just four games at Perry Stadium this year, the game at Browns Stadium counts toward its season attendance figures.
"The ability to meet paid attendance [standards] removes the guillotine from people's heads," Chryst said.
Many of the players at the stadium yesterday grew up cheering for the Browns. The NFL is the ultimate goal for most, but they're at least guaranteed to play a home game in an NFL stadium.
"I've been a long-time fan, it's a big dream for me to play in this stadium," Hargrove said. "You come here as a little kid, watch all the celebrities and stars, and now we'll be on the field."
The players spent the day trying to introduce their team to potential supporters, but recruiting family and friends to come started a year ago and hasn't quit.
"I'll probably have 75," said sophomore Erique Dozier, from Akron. "Not like Dan Macon, but not bad."
NOTES: The Falcons report Aug. 4 and fall camp starts the next day. Brandon said sophomore running back Bobby Thomas is academically ineligible and is not on the roster. Last season Thomas played in nine games and had 183 yards rushing.
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