Randy Wieck laid out his clothes the night before.
On an ironing board, Wieck stacked a long-sleeve Charlotte Football T-shirt on top of his UNC Charlotte-green shorts. Just to the side, he placed his straw golf hat with its green band sporting the UNCC logo.
He needed a quick get-away Thursday morning to make the hours drive from Shelby for the first real practice of UNCCs football team by 7 a.m.
With 10 minutes to spare, there he was, dressed in what he called his purposeful regalia, standing behind a practice field fence outside UNCCs new on-campus Richardson Stadium. There, he watched his adopted team go through drills.
He didnt know the names of players, their positions or numbers. Hes not even a UNCC graduate. Yet let the history books show: Wieck officially was the first fan to arrive, making him the gridiron 49ers first super fan.
I had to be here, said Wieck, 57, a director for the outpatient wound clinic at Shelbys Cleveland Regional Medical Center. My family and I are college football fans, so this seems historical. We came to a spring practice and the spring game. We bought (six) season tickets at the first opportunity.
Its a special day I never thought it would come.
Like a toothache
Indeed, it seems a lifetime ago since April 2011, when head football Coach Brad Lambert and Micah Powers, former president of Niner Nation Gold, drove two front-end loaders onto an intramural field and scooped a slice of earth for the stadiums official groundbreaking.
Football was added to UNCCs slate of sports primarily to connect students and graduates to the campus and Charlotte to the school.
But officials also believe the program will help raise the schools profile.
Chancellor Phil Dubois never intended to consider a team when he returned to campus for a second stint in March 2005.
But the sentiment for a team from students and alumni was too strong.
It was kind of like a toothache, Dubois said last year. Not much good happens if you let it fester.
The chancellor said then that the issue was given a full examination and he was satisfied a football team wouldnt shove to the side academic work and other goals.
Dubois and other university officials decided they wanted a stadium that would become a part of campus life blending in with the same clay-colored brick used to build nearby buildings on the universitys Charlotte Research Institute campus.
A team of our own
Randy Wieck and wife Stephanie made half a dozen trips from Shelby to watch the stadium grow up.
They grew up two blocks from each other in Freeport, Ill., where Randy played football for the Freeport High Pretzels.
I was a Pretzel, he said.
He and Stephanie were also fans of the University of Wisconsin, an hours drive from Freeport. In October 1979, they spent their honeymoon in Madison at a Wisconsin-Michigan State football game. The Badgers won 38-29.
The Wiecks moved to Shelby in 1984, and soon the 49ers won their allegiance.
Theyve had season tickets to basketball games since 1985, and gone to about 90 percent of the games.
Growing up watching Big 10 conference football, they could never get invested in the states ACC teams.
We needed a college team to support, Randy said. We arent really pro sports fans. Weve loved watching Charlotte play basketball, but were so happy to have a football team of our own.
Now theyre grandparents of soon to be four. The Wiecks bought six season tickets on the 30-yard line at Richardson Stadium, four of them for their two daughters, Erica and Alexis, and their husbands. Recently, 18-month-old grandson Charlie was photographed in a UNCC football jersey.
For the inaugural season, Randy and Stephanie intend to go to all games, home and away.
This gives us something to look forward to on Saturdays, Randy said. Ive usually spent Saturdays watching college football on TV. Now well make this a go-to, whole-day family event tailgating and everything.
Only need to show effort
At the first real practice of UNCCs first football team, Wieck was among only a few fans to show up. As instructed by daughter Erica, a UNCC graduate (class of 2003) he took photos. He was the only fan to stay start to finish.
He thought more fans would attend. So did Bruce Duke, who drove up after practice started to watch his son, redshirt freshman receiver Austin Duke, practice.
I thought there would be a crowd here, he said. That will take time.
Bruce Duke is expecting an inaugural season with a winning record.
The record doesnt matter to Randy Wieck. Effort does.
This is a new team and I know were going to take our lumps, he said. But as long as theyre competitive and show commitment, then I think it will be well worth my money.
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