On Sunday afternoon, the McNeese football team took some time away from the rigors of training camp to participate in media day and the 2019 Fan Fest held inside Cowboy Stadium.
Although the players didn't have to worry about putting pads and hitting on Sunday, they did don their game uniforms and took team and positional photographs with the coaching staff. They also spoke with members of the media for interviews; for the first time since first-year head coach Sterlin Gilbert hired his assistant coaches, he made them available for interviews on Sunday.
After the pictures were taken and interviews were done, the players sat down and signed autographs and also took pictures with the family, friends, and fans that came to see them. There was no official number for how many fans, but it is estimated to be in the hundreds. Fans and members of the McNeese athletic department say that the crowd on Sunday was one of the bigger crowds in a few years for this type of event.
"Just excited about the community coming out," Gilbert said of FanFest. "Southwest Louisiana, (Calcasieu) Parish, and just excited about fans and alumni to come see our guys. That's important to us and important to our players. The tradition and support that sits here for the McNeese Cowboys is exciting."
While fans were in line receiving autographs, some coaches handed out bottles of water. There were also shirts and sunglasses given out by the athletic department. Fans with children went down onto the Cowboy Stadium field and played catch with some players, while others sat in the shaded seats on the westside bleachers to try and get away from the heat.
Junior offensive lineman Collin Fountain, a Lake Charles-native and Barbe-graduate, said that Sunday was one of the cooler experiences he'd had as a McNeese football player.
"It's probably the best feeling ever," Fountain said. "Just seeing everybody come out here. Seeing something this big and this great, this is like the best feeling you could ever feel."
Even players who have experience at Football Bowl Subdivision schools took notice to how the McNeese fans have treated the team with excitement. Sophomore wide receiver Davion Curtis, who transferred to McNeese from Tyler Junior College but originally signed with Texas out of high school, has had a solid training camp — he caught a touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage — on the heels of catching two touchdown passes in the spring game. But even having the experience he's had at Texas, Curtis marveled at the Cowboys fans on Sunday.
"This reminds me just of back home," Curtis said. "Everybody knows everybody. And they love their community football. And I love that type of thing. This is just like Texas, it's just smaller. Everything else is the same. The fans love their home team, and that's what I like. I just love being around people that love their home team. That's what I like about McNeese."
For Gilbert — who also celebrated his 41st birthday on Sunday — events like the Fan Fest are just as important to the players as they are to the fans because the players, some of which are still relatively new to McNeese and Lake Charles, get to interact with new people. And they are also making new McNeese fans with all the children that attended.
"I think it's huge, the connection (with the fans)," Gilbert said. "You can see their smiles and their looks. And being able to talk to little kids and adults as well. And just connect with our fans, I think that's huge. I think it's impactful and we're excited about being able to do this."
After Sunday's day off from practice, the Cowboys will get back to work on Monday morning with their ninth practice of training camp from 9-11:30 a.m.