Videoboard boosts gameday experience at The Citadel

The scoreboard at The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium cost $1.4 million and is 426 square feet.

Sarah Bates

It's an hour before kickoff, and Cyril Samonte is dashing around the pressbox at The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium, a cellphone pressed to his ear.

The problem of the moment — audio from the stadium's huge videoboard is bleeding into the radio broadcast.

It takes Samonte, video coordinator for The Citadel athletic department, a couple of minutes to resolve that issue, and then it's on to the next one, and then the one after that, for the next three hours.

Producing the videoboard at The Citadel's home football games is like producing a live television broadcast of a game, complete with a crew of 12 to 15 staffers, replays and sponsor messages. For the three hours of a typical game, the atmosphere in the videoboard control room is almost as intense as in the Bulldogs' coaches' box, just on the other side of the pressbox at Johnson Hagood.

'It can get pretty crazy in there,' said Samonte, a 1991 Citadel graduate who's been producing the videoboard for five years. 'It's just like producing a live telecast, except your audience is in the stadium and not at home.'

Videoboards have become an increasingly important part of the gameday experience in college football, even at smaller schools such as The Citadel. Of the eight Division I programs in the state, all but Charleston Southern have a stadium videoboard.

Surprisingly — or maybe it's not such a surprise, given the school's relationship with the NFL's Carolina Panthers — Wofford has the largest videoboard in the state, at 1,254 square feet. Until James Madison went online this season with a 1,440-square foot board, Wofford's was the largest among FCS schools.

And make no mistake, size matters when it comes to videoboards. Texas has the largest in the country, at 134 by 55 1/2 feet, or 7,437 square feet. That dwarfs the boards at the large stadiums at Clemson (1,169 square feet) and South Carolina (494 square feet).

For a stadium the size of Johnson Hagood (20,000 seats), The Citadel's 426-square foot board makes a real impact on game days.

'It's essential to producing a game today,' said Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby. 'It helps with the atmosphere, with the pageantry of gameday. Our board is the perfect size for our stadium, in my opinion, and the quality is outstanding.'

The videoboard also is useful in recruiting. Coach Kevin Higgins can bring prospects to the stadium and show them Citadel highlights on the board.

'That's impressive for the kids,' Higgins said.

The Citadel acquired its $1.4 million scoreboard and videoboard in 2006 as a part of a marketing deal with scoreboard maker Daktronics, which hired Samonte and his firm, CyrREEL Video Productions, to run the videoboard on game day.

Samonte has a staff of 12 to 15, recruited mostly from local TV stations, to man the three cameras and production equipment, which includes 10 monitors, a replay machine and computers for graphics and music.

Before the 'home side' of Johnson Hagood was completely renovated, the control room was in the locker room where the referees dressed.

'At halftime, we had to kick out all our women staffers so the refs could use the bathroom,' Samonte said.

The 'telecast' Samonte produces is also streamed live on the Internet on citadelsports.com.

'I want to use the cameras to show people in the stadium who these players are,' Samonte said. 'We can get in there and show their faces, show their drama, show their emotions whether they are winning or losing.'

One thing Samonte has to be careful about showing is replays of controversial calls by officials.

'That can be touchy,' he said. 'If it's controversial, maybe we'll just show it one time at real speed and not in slow motion. We want to make sure we don't cause a riot or a stir by showing something.'

Samonte also produces video features on players that are shown during games. On big third downs, fans can see Bulldogs players on video, urging them to stand and cheer.

'It brings a little spark to everything,' senior running back Rickey Anderson said of the board. 'We love loud fans, and anything that can motivate them to get a little louder is great.'

The videoboard shows live action during games, and a running back racing toward the scoreboard end zone can watch himself, if he so chooses.

'But you have to be careful,' Anderson said. 'You don't want to get caught looking up there and step out of bounds or something.'

When it comes to videoboards at college football stadiums, size matters. Here's a look at videoboards at Division I schools around the state. Texas has the biggest board in the country at 7,437 square feet (134 x 55.5):

School | Dimensions | Square feet | Rank*

Wofford | 57 x 22 | 1,254 | No. 2 in FCS

Clemson | 61.5 x 19 | 1,169 | 7th in ACC

South Carolina | 26 x 19 | 494 | 10th in SEC

The Citadel | 27.5 x 15.5 | 426 | 20th in FCS

Furman | 13 x 32 | 416 | 21st in FCS

S.C. State | 24 x 12 | 288 | 24th in FCS

Coastal Carolina | 14.5 x 11 | 160 | 32nd in FCS

*rankings according to wikipedia.com

Follow Jeff Hartsell on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC, and read his Citadel blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/bulldog_bites