ASU Followers Take in Fan Appreciation Day

As the countdown to kickoff for Arizona State University's 2007 football season nears the one-week mark, Sun Devil fans young and old gathered at Frank Kush Field at Sun Devil Stadium Friday night for what will be one of the final public previews of this season's squad before the season opener Sept. 1 against San Jose State.

Following an hour-long mock game, which punctuated a series of days that Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson used to mimic those preceding an actual regular season game, members of the public were allowed to venture onto Frank Kush Field where Sun Devil fans of all ages sought autographs and photo opportunities with players and coaches during ASU's annual fan appreciation day.

"It's a great chance to meet the players and coaches face-to-face," said Nate McWhorter of Cave Creek. "It shows that they are all just regular people, not athletes who think that they're superstars."

The usual fan favorites-- quarterback Rudy Carpenter, running backs Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring -- were flooded by crowd attraction, however younger, starry-eyed Sun Devil fans seemed to flock to any athlete in maroon and gold.

"The kids love it and had a blast," said Mike of Gilbert, who was joined by youngsters Kaleb, Justyce, Sierra and Casin. "This is the first time that we've been out to the fan appreciation day, and we're very excited for the upcoming season with Coach Erickson. The kids especially loved seeing Coach (Erickson), Rudy (Carpenter), Kyle Williams, and Keegan (Herring)."

Aside from being an excellent public relations activity, fans and athletes alike showed tremendous enthusiasm for the event, ranging from the perennial fan-favorite Keegan Herring on hands-and-knees welcoming all autograph-seekers, to up-and-coming crowd-pleaser Kyle Williams who posed for pictures with a number of mini-Devils, teaching several the fine art of properly signaling the pitchfork gesture.

"It's a great chance for the kids to be able to get up-close and personal with the players," said Joe Wallace of Gilbert, joined by Drew Bradley, eight, and six-year-old Vincent Wallace.

Although fans were widely excited to mingle with their favorite Sun Devils during the 40-minute meet-and-greet, many long-time fan appreciation attendees voiced their preference of the event's previous set-up, as in years past it was staged indoors at ASU's Wells Fargo Arena.

"I really preferred when they had the fan appreciation day inside Wells Fargo Arena," said George of Surprise. "I've been attending this event since 1995 and I really enjoy it but prefer it indoors where it's cooler."

Due to the mock game structure of the evening, ASU scout team members mimicked the starters of ASU's upcoming opponent, San Jose State, which included wearing practice jerseys with numbers corresponding to the those of the Spartans' starters, creating confusion among some adolescent Sun Devil followers.

"It's been a lot of fun, although it's hot outside," said Jackson Fogerty, 13, of Scottsdale, who was joined by nine-year-old brother Grant. "Also, it's tough to tell who some of the players are when they don't have their jerseys on."

The optimism and excitement among the maroon and gold faithful on the field was palpable Friday, largely based on the new direction and potential of Erickson and staff. Eager anticipation to turn the page in Sun Devil football and usher in a new era was widely visible, with patience wearing thing as the Sun Devil nation collectively counts down to Sept. 1.

"It's great out here," stated Oscar Vega of Laveen, "It's good to get on the field and among the players. I love what Coach Erickson is doing, he reminds me of (former Sun Devil head coach) Frank Kush, and I can't wait to get the season started."

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and will be a guest contributor to Devils Digest during the 2007 football season. He currently writes for ASU's Maroon and Gold Illustrated and his work has also been featured in Sun Devil football media guides and other official team publications.

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