By John Sorce |
WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University has opened its 25th football season in style with a pair of impressive wins over Lafayette (31-12 on September 2) and Lehigh (46-27 on September 9) and ushered in a new era at Henni Kantor Kessler and John H. Kessler Stadium.
“To see where we were back before we had the old stadium to where we are today with this beautiful facility means a lot,” said Monmouth Football Head Coach Kevin Callahan, who is the only head coach in program history. “I know the team is very excited about having a chance to play in this stadium and we’re really looking forward to Opening Day.”
The $16 million venue, which also houses the University’s men’s and women’s lacrosse and outdoor track & field programs, was named in honor of the Kessler’s after the University announced a donation of a “generous seven-figure gift” on July 10th. Seventy-five percent of the funds for the project were fundraised and 25 percent came from the institution, according to Monmouth Vice President/Director of Athletics, Dr. Marilyn McNeil.
The architect of the new facility is Ewing Cole, which also designed the OceanFirst Bank Center that houses the University’s men’s and women’s basketball programs, along with indoor track & field.
Kessler Stadium will seat more than 4,200 fans, including 800 chair-back seats, which is the same capacity as the OceanFirst Bank Center. McNeil noted the old Kessler Field grandstand accommodated just under 3,000 people officially, though there were games where the team drew upwards of 3,500-3,800 with standing room only crowds.
Construction for the facility began days after the home portion of Monmouth’s 2016 football season concluded on Oct. 29, but McNeil noted talks for a facility upgrade began long before then.
“We started talking about the new football facility I think the minute the MAC (Multipurpose Activity Center – now known as the OceanFirst Bank Center) was finished because it was obvious how dismal the old stadium looked next to the MAC,” McNeil said. “We opened up the third floor of the MAC and you had a beautiful view of the not-so-beautiful stadium. The conversation became quite earnest at that point.”
Monmouth Athletics transitioned from the Northeast Conference to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) prior to the 2013-14 academic year. But the MAAC does not host football, so the football program needed a new home.
After serving as an FCS independent for the 2013 season, Monmouth Football joined the Big South in 2014. The Big South is a fully funded scholarship football conference, so that enabled Callahan to draw in more players. The facility upgrade was the next step.
“Once we joined the Big South, the level of talent we’ve been bringing in to play here has continued to increase each and every year,” Callahan said. “Now that we have the ability to recruit scholarship players, the next thing they are going to look at is facilities and what you have to offer. Once we were told this was going to happen, it was something we absolutely promoted. We wanted players to know we were going to have this, because it makes a difference. During recruiting, today’s player is highly interested in facilities and it’s more than just telling people something now. It’s something they can physically see and is now a reality. That says a lot about Monmouth’s commitment to athletics, and it shows the athletic department’s commitment to football.”
McNeil noted one of the goals for the University’s athletic programs is to “finish in the top three in their conference” and qualify for the NCAAs on a “somewhat regular basis” in each sport. She felt the old stadium hampered that opportunity for the student-athletes that competed in it.
“It is a step up for the entire University in terms of what we look like, but also how we talk about ourselves,” McNeil said. “I think it does add to the student pride. It has certainly been huge from a recruitment standpoint, just like the MAC has been and with some success in those programs, I hope it will draw like the MAC has drawn and become an exciting place to be.”
Monmouth senior safety Mike Basile, who has been named All-Big South First Team his first three years and starred in the Shore Conference at Brick Memorial, has seen the program grow each year since he joined in 2014.
“It shows how far the program has come from just three years ago when I came in as a freshman,” Basile said. “Everything that we’ve been through to get this great stadium, it’s cool for me to go out in my senior year and it’s going to be exciting for us to play here. We’re all excited as a team and we’re ready for the season to come.”
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