NEWS

New Illini grandstand expected to make games noisier

John Supinie

Completion of the Memorial Stadium renovation is still a year away. But when Illinois opens the home season on Sept. 8 against Western Illinois, the north end-zone grandstand is likely to create a better home-field advantage.

Constructed after last season ended, the 5,000-seat structure is home to the student section, the Block I and the marching band. The north grandstand fills the open space and rises high above the field to cap the stadium's north end.

"That will obviously change the environment,'' said wide receiver Kyle Hudson. "The students will be there when we run out of the tunnel. It's going to make that end of the stadium a lot louder. It's closed in now, and it's going to get loud.

"I think it's going to be tough for opponents to drive in that way with the fans screaming and yelling.''

The last touches to the north grandstand, such as installing the final bleachers, are nearly complete. The section already sold out with the overflow student section in the stadium's northeast end. The north grandstand will also have new restrooms and concessions limited only for the student seating.

The Zuppke wall and Grange rock were moved to more prominent places. Crews must finish installing the scoreboard above the horseshoe at the stadium's south end before the season opener.

A $5 million donation will fund the completion of a 30,000-square-foot area underneath the north grandstand, where a 20,000-square-foot weight room will be finished next summer.

Work is on pace and on budget to complete the press box, suites and club seating before the 2008 season in the $120 million project, said associate athletic director Warren Hood.

Tight Fit

Illinois expects its first sellout since 2002. Only 2,000 tickets remain for the game against Michigan on 0ct. 20. Strong season ticket sales and the loss of seats on the stadium's west side during renovation could also lead to more sellouts.

Seating capacity fell from 69,249 to 57,078 because of the renovation on the stadium's west side. An increase of 11,000 new season ticket sales (in part because of a reduced-price ticket in the horseshoe) moved season ticket sales to 34,000.

Dunbar Diet

Freshman wide receiver Arrelious Benn and sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis brought their own menu from Washington (D.C.) Dunbar High School. They cut out red meat, fried foods and fat.

What else is left?

"Chicken and fish that's baked or broiled, and I drink soy milk,'' Benn said. "I'm trying to get more guys on that. If you do like that, you train better and last longer. You're leaner.''

Davis loads up on watermelon, pineapple and turkey.

"The whole team is joining us, but they're just trying it a little,'' Davis said. "They think we're some weird people with what we eat.''

The concern with Davis is that he's too lean. The 6-foot, 205-pound Davis has only 3 percent body fat. Anything lower leads to cramping during games, he said.

ETC: The Illini moved to Camp Rantoul on Sunday afternoon after media day.

 John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.