Tulane receiver Xavier Rush can’t remember being so eager to run extra routes after practice.
That’s because for the first time this season, he wasn’t rushing toward a bus when the session concluded.
After all three weeks of preseason camp were spread around four New Orleans locations, Tulane finally practiced on its own campus and next to its own locker room, taking the field at newly constructed Yulman Stadium on Tuesday morning.
“There’s definitely some comfort in that,” Rush said. “We didn’t have to go run out after practice to catch a ride back and lose time going back and forth. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until we got out there and it was easy to get in and out and when I wanted to work on some stuff with (starting quarterback) Tanner (Lee), I could.”
After touching base at home, the Green Wave now take to the road, traveling to Tulsa for Thursday night’s season opener in the school’s first-ever American Athletic Conference game. The teams play at 7 p.m.
But even if it was a brief introduction to its new confines, Tulane coach Curtis Johnson and several of his players said it was important to practice inside the Green Wave’s new home for the first time, if only to soak up the experience. Some players took phones onto the field to snap pictures while others just scanned through the various graphics and display items inside the $75 million facility.
Tulane broadcaster Todd Graffagnini said it looked like Christmas morning as players went the various parts of the stadium Tuesday to check out what was inside. Johnson said he even felt the team was “shellshocked” at the onset of practice by the change in venue.
“I’ve been here for four years and this is the first time it really feels like we have a home,” Rush said. “Even without anyone else in the stadium, it still felt like home. It’s hard to describe that.”
Johnson hopes Tuesday was the official end of Tulane’s vagabond status after two seasons of traversing the city to find a practice field. The journey stretched from the luxuries of the New Orleans Saints indoor facility to a 65-yard setup on the outfield of Turchin Stadium. Stops at Newman School and Tad Gormley Stadium also got peppered in as the site of Tulane’s on-campus practice fields transformed from a construction site into a new stadium.
“It was really a good feeling (Tuesday),” Johnson said. “Our kids got out of the locker room and got a chance to walk right out to a football field that was 100 yards. We weren’t on a baseball field where it may have been 65 yards. It was really fun, and the clock operated, and it was just great.
“It took us a while to get going because everyone had their cameras out to take pictures, tweeting and whatever else they do nowadays.”
Fellow students picked up on the buzz, snatching up all but 500 of the 4,300 tickets allotted to them for the Green Wave’s season opener against Georgia Tech on Sept. 6, less than 36 hours after they were made available. Starting on Monday morning, students streamed up and down Ben Weiner Drive to pick up tickets at the Wilson Center. They will likely sell out their section for the first time in recent memory.
“It’s crazy to play around in there today and think it’s going to be a sold out stadium,” redshirt freshman running back Sherman Badie said. “That’s not what we were thinking when we practiced in the Superdome last year. It was just emotional being out there, and we are ready to play our first home game.”
Before Tulane can start to picture the scene Sept. 6, its season-opening game at Tulsa awaits. And while players didn’t want to call the unveiling of Yulman Stadium a distraction, several said they need to wait until Friday to truly focus on what’s to come.
“Tulsa is all we can think about right now,” sophomore center Nathan Shienle said. “It’s great to be out there today but if we don’t do what we need to do in this first game, it takes a lot out of it. It’s up to us to focus and give people a reason to be excited for that game by winning this one.”