As wins stack, SIU fans embrace program revival

SIU linebacker Bryce Notree (54) is greeted by young fans ahead of a game this fall. Compared to 2019, attendance has increased by 20% at Carbondale this season. (Photo from SIUSalukis.com)

Early in his Southern Illinois career, sixth-year wide receiver Landon Lenoir noticed something about the crowds at Saluki football games.

After halftime a number of fans left their seats and did not return.

This fall at Carbondale, those empty seats were filled when the Salukis enter the field for the third quarter with fans lending their voices in support.

“Just seeing our crowd hold on for four quarters is exciting,” said Lenoir, who would become one of the best receivers in SIU history. “I know our team is proud of it. “

As the Salukis make the FCS qualifiers for the second year in a row, SIU fans have shown their support in the stands, outside the stadium and when seeing players in town. On Saturday, the team will make back-to-back playoffs for the first time since 2008-09.

Compared to the 2019 season, attendance increased by almost 20% at SIU games this fall, reaching an average of 7,742 fans per game.

“I’m glad this being my last season, we can come out with a bang and fill this (stadium),” said Lenoir, whose team will start their first round game at 5 pm Saturday in South Dakota.

With the victories come the fans

Along with back-to-back playoff seasons, the Salukis flirted with the playoffs in 2019.

They were left out by the FCS selection committee despite a 7-5 record and a five-game winning streak at FCS two seasons ago.

Over the past three seasons, the Salukis have won 20 games under sixth-year head coach Nick Hill, a native of nearby DuQuoin who played as a quarterback at SIU.

As victory emerged, Hill said growing the fan base has been an important part of building a culture at SIU.

“This is a step that you want to take as a football program,” Hill said. “It’s university support, student support, it’s hookers. That’s what a championship culture is. That’s all.

For its players, larger crowds also add extra juice to home games.

“When you see all these people showing up and you are a player, you expect them to come here to watch a good football team,” he said. “Winning keeps them coming back. “

Student support

The SIU student section has grown this season as the Salukis have continued to win. (Photo by @TheSIUDawgPound)

Perhaps the loudest addition to SIU’s fan base this fall has been in the student section, known as The Dawg Pound.

The section has its own Twitter account – @TheSIUDawgPound – where the group announced earlier this season that it is now the largest registered student organization on campus.

Although the Dawg Pound shares messages of support for all of Saluki’s teams, the football matches received broad support, with students dressing on themed days, such as neon and blackout.

Australia-born punter Jack Colquhoun joined the SIU after the Salukis finished 2-9 in 2018. Fan support has been a welcome change as more wins have been achieved.

“Being able to see the buzz and the general excitement for football here on Saturday has been really cool,” said Colquhoun. “It resulted in a bigger crowd, which we always love. Our student section has been particularly important this year, for which we are very grateful.

Colquhoun said the student section is especially visible when soccer rookies and their families visit on match days.

Around the city

Players like Lenoir and Colquhoun haven’t just noticed more fans in the seats at Saluki Stadium.

Head coach Nick Hill said the support of the fans welcoming the players to town is an advantage of his team’s ways to win. (Photo by Barry Bottino, Prairie State Pigskin)

They met SIU supporters while eating out and shopping in the neighborhood.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Colquhoun said. “Going to the store and hearing people (talking about the SIU) and chatting with people, letting them know who you are and saying, ‘Great game.’ Developing a community culture has been really important.

For someone who didn’t grow up in the United States, Colquhoun was especially flattered when he was noticed in town.

“It’s cool to know that there are people out there who care about you and ride the wave (of a season) with you as well,” he said. “Football is bigger than just inside the locker room right now. Locals came over after a game and said how awesome it was to watch me.

“It makes you feel all fluffy,” Colquhoun said.

Around the region

For Hill, who is from southern Illinois, seeing supportive fans around town is nothing new.

“It’s one of the many reasons I love this place so much,” Hill said. “I’m from here, so some of the people who come to talk to me are because I’m friends with them or have known them all my life.

“I think it’s cool for the players,” he said of the fans greeting them in the region. “That’s what we decided to do.”

For Roger Lipe, the team’s retired chaplain, winning has helped unite a number of small communities that surround the Carbondale campus.

“Almost everyone sees the world through the prism of their small town,” Lipe said of the area. “There is generally no sense of regional membership. But when something is successful like soccer, people are suddenly happy to jump on that train and be a part of something bigger than their hometown.

Lipe added that the program’s winning seasons have helped “create a wave of support.

“It gets people into the emotion of, ‘Hey, this is working. Let’s go with them, ”said Lipe.


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