HUNTINGTON - Whether you last came to the Joan C. Edwards Stadium in 2007 or just last November, you will get an entirely new experience Friday night.
And Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick promises that, aside from how they might view the game's result, fans will come away impressed.
With $3.5 million from Marshall's new contract with multimedia rights-holder ISP Sports, the athletic department has spruced up the football stadium and the Cam Henderson Center arena. With hours ticking down to Friday's MU-West Virginia game, crews have been working out the kinks with the two new video boards and putting the finishing touches on adornments at the stadium.
The new sound system, accentuated by six additional speakers, also is being tuned up for the 7 p.m. kickoff Friday. While the Thundering Herd prepares for 23rd-ranked West Virginia, the surrounding stadium is erupting with activity.
Most notable are the new video displays, measuring about 28 feet high by 49 feet wide at the south end, and about 22 feet high by 32 feet wide at the Shewey Building end. Both boards are framed by a distinctive kelly green block "M," while the smaller board is complemented by two LED ribbon displays, each 82 feet long.
MU officials also brainstormed for creative, less expensive ways to brighten up the stadium, which will begin its 20th season Friday. The ESPN cameras will immediately capture one aesthetic improvement, the new field-level facing of the stands.
After 19 seasons of unadorned concrete, those facades sport a "Welcome to Herd Country" theme, awash in green. Some green decor has been added to the concourses.
Before then, fans will notice a splashy change on the stadium's west exterior. Open areas above the entry games will be covered by eight large, square banners, four featuring former Herd stars Chad Pennington, Randy Moss and Troy Brown.
That serves several purposes: It pays homage to some of the most successful alumni, it covers up the underside of the stadium grandstand and ... just plain looks nice, espcially from a distance.
The back of the south-end scoreboard has just been finished. It's plain, yet striking, using the "We Are ... Marshall" theme to give the stadium better visibility from Fifth Avenue. On the Third Avenue Garage, fans also may notice the giant paintings of Mike D'Antoni and Byron Leftwich.
Back at the stadium, the stands received a power-washing, and are being hosed down again this week. Flower beds are being redone, the south-end hillside is being spruced up and the last of those banners are being hung. The M-Club area outside the southwest corner has been tweaked, though there are bigger plans in the works there.
Speaking of the M-Club, players will run onto the field under an M-Club banner, a la Michigan, in a totally revamped pregame. Designated former players will hold the banner, with the 1971 Young Thundering Herd doing the honors Friday.
The "Thunder Walk," in which players walk from Hodges Hall through campus and the West Lot, will remain. It will start a little earlier, at 4:45 p.m.