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Bronco Mendenhall thrilled with improved Scott Stadium atmosphere

Coach says there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon.

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NCAA Football: William & Mary at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday night against the Florida State Seminoles, the Virginia Cavaliers stand a very real chance of playing in front of their largest home crowd in nearly eight years. The 61,500-seat Scott Stadium hasn’t hosted a game with an announced attendance of 60,000 or more since the 2011 Virginia Tech game. That came after a nearly four-season stretch without eclipsing that number dating back to the 2008 game against USC — the largest home crowd in UVA history at just shy of 65,000. During the early Al Groh years, which coincided with the first few years after the stadium was expanded by almost 20,000 seats, crowds at or above sellout level were an annual happening on Alderman Road; current Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall believes that last Friday could have been the start of something special.

“Those guys [the students] were awesome. I almost smiled on game day,” Mendenhall said on his radio show Tuesday night. “I looked over there multiple times, and it just – it was so much fun … Our players noticed, I noticed, and there was just an energy and a vibrancy that I can only imagine when the entire stadium is like that.”

The students filled their sections of the stadium against William & Mary, staying engaged and loud throughout the first half and bringing a rare electricity for a Friday night game in Week 2 against a vastly-outmatched FCS opponent. According to UVA, it was the largest student crowd to attend a game since 2008 — almost certainly the aforementioned USC game — and the student record could be broken on Saturday.

In an email to fans on Wednesday, the school says that they “are expecting a capacity crowd” this weekend, adding that heavy traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, should be expected around Grounds. As of Thursday morning, around 280 tickets were available through UVA, well over half of which were located in the upper deck behind the south end zone. And to hear Mendenhall tell it, everyone’s welcome on board the bandwagon.

“We have so many amazing fans and so many loyal fans and so many that have been with us for so long, and there are others now that are regaining their hope, and I can see that happening,” he said. “And there are others that are almost hopeful and they’re wondering, and there are seats for them too, so come on [down], and then those that aren’t quite wondering but are [just] intrigued? Yeah, they can come too.”

It will probably take a few more years for the fanbase to fully rebound from the nine-year stretch starting in 2008 where the program won just 37 games and went 20-52 in the ACC. But since the Miami game last year, it does feel like Scott Stadium has life again. Just ask Mendenhall.

“It seems like we’re just right on the cusp of maybe a tipping point for Scott Stadium to really become what we all think it’s capable of, and maybe this is just the beginning of that.”