Inside his North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania residence, Steve Petrick and his family welcomed coach Matt Rhule and assistant head coach and tight ends coach Ed Foley on Jan. 28 for an in-home visit.
With National Signing Day six days away, the coaches discussed the incoming tight end’s future as an Owl over a slice of pizza.
One topic that came up was the possibility of an on-campus stadium.
“The coaches were bringing it up, and I asked them about it in my home visit because it was a teammate who told me at the camp they were trying to get it passed,” Petrick said. “To have our own stadium, it would be incredible.”
On Monday, the Board of Trustees approved a $1 million action to pursue architectural designs for the proposed $126 million on-campus stadium site. During the meeting, President Theobald identified the current space of the Geasey Field Complex as the expected area.
“They said they were leaning toward it,” Petrick said of the dinner. “They said they are all for it.”
Linebackers coach Mike Siravo guided Kenny Yeboah around Edberg-Olson Hall during Yeboah’s visit to the university this summer.
With his mother, Mouna, father, George and two sisters, Kendra and Kenisha in tow—Yeboah was informed of a possible on-campus stadium, but Siravo told the incoming tight end they “weren’t sure.”
Rhule and Siravo told Pennsylvania athlete Branden Mack a stadium could be built by “his sophomore or junior year” during Mack’s visit to Main Campus.
“[Parents] are asking me,” Rhule said of the stadium. “That might be a little factor, what they are hearing, but we don’t talk about anything like that at all. What I’m not going to be is one of those coaches who says, ‘Hey, there’s rumors of this or rumors of that.’ I talk about what is actually here, and I’ll talk about something being built when there is a shovel in the ground. Not even when there are plans being made.”
The Owls have played their home games at Lincoln Financial Field, the home stadium of the Philadelphia Eagles, since August 2003. Temple is one of seven Division I teams to share a stadium with an NFL team.
The Temple News previously reported in August that the university renewed its contract with the Philadelphia Eagles for their home stadium. The new contract, which was originally set to expire in 2017, gave the team two consecutive one-year options to play home games at the Linc in 2018 and 2019.
The Linc seats 69,194, the largest capacity crowd in the American Athletic Conference.
“For me, growing up, I was always a huge Eagles fan,” said freshman offensive lineman and mid-year addition Darian Bryant on Jan. 7. “So now knowing I am going to be playing at Lincoln Financial Field, the same field for the team I love and support, is a big deal for me.”
Against Penn State and the University of Notre Dame—the then-No. 9 team in the AP Top 25 poll—last season, the Owls drew crowds of 69,176 and 69,280, respectively.
The two games marked the first time Temple has sold out two games in a single season since the team moved to South Philadelphia in 1976.
“From where I’m from, we didn’t really have any people at the games,” said Kareem Gaulden a defensive back from New Jersey. “We had one packed game this year. And now, from me going from 100 to 70 people at a game to thousands of fans is going to be crazy.”
In six homes games in 2015, the Owls’ average attendance was 44,158. Last season marked the first time the Owls had a home attendance average higher than 29,000 since moving to the Linc in 2003.
“We tell them ‘You are going to have some unbelievable moments at the Linc,’” Rhule said. “If you win a game, you throw a touchdown, you catch a touchdown or take someone for the game-winning tackle—if you go somewhere in the Midwest, maybe your girlfriend is there and a couple friends. Here at Temple, your whole family is going to be there.”
In the 13 seasons at the Linc, the stadium’s season-average attendance has been less than 25,000 nine times, including 12,735 in the team’s 0-11 season in 2005.
Yeboah said an on-campus stadium can increase attendance.
“I feel like even more people will go,” Yeboah said. “It would be right on campus, so people could walk. It wouldn’t be far. It should be exciting.”
For students to attend home games, they have to take public transportation or ride the shuttle buses provided by the university on gameday to the stadium, which is a 20-minute drive from Main Campus.
“It will allow a lot of the fans that support Temple in that area, including students, it will make their lives easier instead of having to take SEPTA,” Bryant said. “It will be a benefit to the program having so many people in that area coming to support that team and filling the stadium.”
Virginia defensive back Keyvone Bruton said besides the convenience it provides to fans, an on-campus stadium can affect Rhule’s recruiting.
Following signing day last Wednesday, Rhule penned a 26-man class, including Rivals.com four-star defensive end Karamo Dioubate from Preparatory Charter School. The Philadelphia native is Temple’s highest-rated recruit since Rivals.com began tracking rankings in 2002.
The group, which also includes 12 Rivals.com three-star recruits, was the No. 59 best recruiting class in Division I and the second best out of 12 teams in The American.
“I know a lot of athletes like to play in nice places with nice uniforms,” Bruton said. “Everyone wants to play in a new stadium that is packed on TV.”
Maryland defensive lineman Quincy Roche said an on-campus stadium is a more effective recruiting tool than an off-campus stadium.
“You can use it as a tool when it is on-campus,” Roche said. “When it’s off, you can’t really. You have to travel.”
Petrick said an on-campus stadium will draw recruits, but Rhule is the reason players are coming to the university.
Since taking over the Owls in 2013, Rhule has won 18 games, including 10 games in 2015. Last season was the second time in school history the Owls won 10 games and the first time since 2011 the team appeared in a bowl game.
“Temple wasn’t a big football school,” Mack said. “You wouldn’t hear about Temple’s football team. People weren’t really talking a lot. When they won 10 games, they were the talk of the city.”
On Dec. 7, 2015, Rhule—who led the Owls to their first ranking in the Top 25 since 1979—agreed to a new six-year contract that runs through the 2021 season.
After 25 coaching positions opened up in 2015, Rhule’s deal eased the recruits’ worries.
“I was thinking he was going to leave,” Petrick said. “I was kind of scared because I didn’t want Rhule to leave … seeing that was very exciting.”
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.