Things will look different Saturday when Citadel football fans file into Johnson Hagood Stadium for the Bulldogs' season opener.
Coastal Carolina at The Citadel
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
TV: SoCon Digital Network
The Corps of Cadets will be sitting on the home side of the stadium for the first time since 2005, in theory adding some pep to the game-day atmosphere. A new cheerleading squad, including cadets and non-cadets alike, will grace the sideline after a year's absence.
A new coach, Mike Houston, will lead the Bulldogs out of a renovated locker room in the Altman Athletic Center. A new athletic director, Jim Senter, will watch his first Citadel football game against a brand new foe, defending Big South champion Coastal Carolina. And a new starting quarterback, senior Aaron Miller, will be under center for his first career start.
"A lot of hard work has gone into the preparation for this game, starting back in January," said Houston, who compiled a record of 29-8 in three seasons at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne before he was hired to replace Kevin Higgins at The Citadel. "The kids have worked all summer and done a great job in a pretty challenging pre-season camp. They met that challenge, and we are healthy and ready for Saturday night."
The success of Houston's first season at The Citadel depends in large part on Miller, a 6-0, 220-pounder from Clover who spent the last three seasons as the backup to Ben Dupree. Miller has plenty of experience - he's played in 28 games in his career - but will be starting for the first time today. He's determined to make the most of his one season as a college starter.
"I feel like I'm blessed with this opportunity," said Miller, who passed for 407 yards and two touchdowns while playing in nine games last season. "I want to take advantage of every chance I get. I know the coaches have done a great job of getting us prepared, and I feel like the offense is behind me 100 percent."
Houston tried to recruit Miller to Lenoir-Rhyne out of Clover High School, and said the QB has developed into an even better player than he imagined four years ago.
"To be honest, I think he's a better player now than we thought he had the potential to be four years ago," Houston said. "He embodies everything we want in that position. He's done a fantastic job all spring, all summer and in camp in running the offense the way we want it run.
"He's probably the most competitive young man in our program, and that meshes right in with our mindset. We're really excited to have the year with him, and I wish we had more."
Houston might wish for an easier way to begin his first season at The Citadel, but that's hardly the case with Coastal Carolina, ranked No. 6 in the FCS preseason coaches poll. The Chanticleers won 12 games last year and advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. Coach Joe Moglia is the first coach in Big South history to win 10 games in each of his first two seasons.
CCU has won five of its last six games against Southern Conference foes, including a 35-28 win over SoCon tri-champ Furman and a 51-17 trouncing of Elon last season. The Chanticleers boast candidates for the Walter Payton Award (junior QB Alex Ross) and the Buck Buchanan Award (senior linebacker Quinn Backus) and 11 players from the Lowcountry, including sophomore running back De'Angelo Henderson from Summerville and preseason All-America offensive tackle Chad Hamilton from James Island.
"They are very talented on both sides of the ball," Houston said. "It's not something that scares us, but it's something we are challenged by. It's an opportunity to see where we are, and to show that we've got some pretty good players, too."
Moglia, the multi-millionaire coach and former CEO of TD Ameritrade, has introduced some new strategies at Coastal Carolina, including a no-tackling policy during spring practice and an aversion to playing big-money games against FBS foes, especially after last year's 70-10 loss at South Carolina.
"I don't understand, someone has to do a better job of explaining to me the advantage of playing FBS opponents," Moglia said at Big South media day last month. "No. 1, they don't pay you enough. Now, the FCS hasn't figured that out yet, but they don't pay the FCS enough. They're playing a guaranteed game and they have 80,000 people in their seats - they probably make $4 million that day, so they don't pay you enough."
The Chants are playing a schedule made up entirely of FCS teams, and Moglia expects his squad to get each foe's best shot, starting Saturday at The Citadel.
"With a new staff, they are going to be ready to go," he said. "And I don't care what happens, when you are playing a military institution like The Citadel, you can count on them being in great shape and giving it 100 percent from wire to wire."
Citadel captains for the CCU game will be QB Aaron Miller, linebackers Carl Robinson and Rah Muhammad and offensive tackle Victor Hill, all seniors. The Bulldogs will have different captains each game and select permanent captains at the end of the season.
Saturday's game is also the debut for new radio play-by-play man Mike Legg. The local broadcast can be heard on WQNT 1450-AM.
It can be heard around the state in Columbia (1470-AM/95.9-FM), Florence/Darlington (1400-AM), Greenville (92.9-FM, 660-AM), Orangeburg (100.3-FM) and Sumter (1240-AM, 105.9-FM).
The Citadel also will make its debut on the new SoCon Digital Network. A link to the free webstream can be found at citadelsports.com on the football schedule.