More fans, more energy.jpgWith new rules, regulations, attitudes, mindsets and procedures, the transition to NCAA has changed many things at Azusa Pacific, including the football team’s fan base.

The change has brought and continues to bring an increase in spectators at sports events. While it is benefiting all sports, it seems to be helping the football program the most.

The number of fans who come to support the Cougars has grown considerably at football games. Last year, 2,850 attended the home opener and 4,355 attended the Homecoming game. This year, 3,788 attended the home opener and 5,746 attended Homecoming.

More fans means more support for the team, but football games serve a bigger purpose than that. According to head coach Victor Santa Cruz, the football games at APU leave a positive impact on camaraderie.

“We always feel like we’re a sport for the community of the university,” Santa Cruz said. “As odd as our society is, there isn’t anything necessarily in the universe that brings people together like a football game. I think it does wonders for the support, the confidence, the enthusiasm our players have and the fun it brings, but also for the community and the relationship-building it does.”

The term “home-field advantage” is commonly used in sports to articulate the idea that the fans give the home team an extra boost of confidence that will increase its chances of winning. If there are more fans present, home-field advantage becomes more potent.

“I’m a big researcher of emotional intelligence, and I think when you have that type of backing and support cheering you on, no matter what the situation is in the game, you just believe even more,” Santa Cruz said. “You just know that people are there with you. Honestly, our fans are like that 12th player, but they’re also like points on the board for us. It’s great; I can’t tell you how much energy is on the field because of them.”

The energy from the fans fuels the players to give the extra effort required to win. Senior offensive tackle Paul Flores said it’s “amazing” to have so many people come out to support the games.

“It really pumps us up and gives us something more to play for than just each other,” Flores said. “We want to go out there and make our parents proud.”

APU players and coaches agree that the amount of energy from fans has drastically changed from previous years, which Santa Cruz said could be due to the new student cheering group, The Zu.

“The Zu has done a fantastic job of organizing. The students now have a real synergy about themselves and the Zu could take a lot of credit for that — they do a great job,” Santa Cruz said. “What we’re seeing right now is just the beginning of what I believe is going to become an event with an overflow of students, families and community members [who will] put on their calendar all the time to be there.”

Senior linebacker and Cougars captain Ethan Danielson said he appreciated the changes the Zu brings to the fans and the fans bring to the team.

“It’s been amazing. The whole new thing they’re doing with the Zu is adding a different aspect to it,” Danielson said. “We looked up sometimes [in the past] and maybe one section is full. Now, we have it full every game. I feel like I’m playing for a big crowd every time I play, and it’s incredible.”

The Cougars played their season opener on Sept. 7 against Grand Valley State in Allendale, Mich., to a stadium of 13,659 spectators. Santa Cruz feels this number of attendees can be matched by Cougar fans.

“Citrus Stadium seats 10,000. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be overflowing,” Santa Cruz said.

Danielson also feels this is a reachable feat for the Cougars, but cares more about the quality of fans than the quantity.

“I think [we can reach that number], but I’d take our home crowd of 5,000 over their 14,000 anytime,” Danielson said.

The Cougars won a thrilling 44-36 Homecoming game Saturday night. Their next game is at Humboldt State (0-6, 0-5) and next at home is Saturday, Nov. 2 against Western Oregon.