ALTOONA — The excitement was palpable as players broke into groups for drill work across Fuzzy Thurston Field.
Understandably so. The date that football fanatics have had circled on their calendars for months was finally here: it was time to kick off the 2019 high school football season.
And for this Altoona team, it was time for a proper introduction to its brand new turf field.
The Railroaders, under the guidance of new head coach Chad Hanson, began a new era of Altoona football on their newly-renovated field Tuesday afternoon. The athletic complex underwent a complete rework over the spring and summer, with synthetic turf and a new track being installed as part of improvements to the facility across the board.
“It’s amazing,” senior running back and linebacker Paxton Gluch said. “It’s honestly a dream come true. I never thought it would happen, but all the guys are excited for it, I think parents as well. It’s going to be fun.”
Tuesday marked the first day of practice for football teams across the state. And for Altoona, it marked the first day under the guidance of Hanson.
The former Greenwood/Granton and Eleva-Strum coach was thrilled to start things off at the team’s scenic new facility.
“I think it’s like Texas football. It’s a football stadium that’s being built right here in west-central Wisconsin,” Hanson said. “I’m super pumped about it, I know the kids are excited about it, the community’s excited about it. It’s an amazing thing our community is putting money into and supporting our athletic programs out here.”
The energetic Hanson will look to right the ship for an Altoona program which went 1-8 last year. So far, the players have been impressed with their new coaching staff.
“He’s just bringing that bond together, that’s the biggest part,” Gluch said of Hanson. “I think he can show big things to us and take this team to another level. He’s done it in the past. It’s all about belief.”
The team got to work on Tuesday, ready to learn. They’ll have two and a half weeks to do exactly that. The Railroaders open the season at Stanley-Boyd on August 23.
The players will have to learn a new system before then, but Hanson has assured them that trusting the process will pay dividends.
“It’s all about trust. We’re here to be a football family first, and that will result in our success on the field,” Hanson said.
The home opener on the new field is set for August 30 when Cadott comes to town.
Altoona brings back a core of players which got plenty of experience last fall. Gluch, who led the team in rushing and was a second team all-conference linebacker, is among the top returning players.
The Railroaders have been young the last couple of years, but have worked to stick together through any growing pains that have arisen.
“We’ve just got to play as a team, knowing that if we play our hardest, outcomes will come,” Gluch said. “That’s basically what we talk about the most.”
That’s the kind of attitude Hanson wants as his team takes the field this year.
“Our big point of emphasis is greatness, trying to be great in everything we do,” Hanson said. “Success out here on Friday night is a byproduct of what we do Monday through Thursday, and throughout the entire year.”
There will be a grand opening celebration for the new field prior to the game against Cadott on August 30. Other changes to the stadium included an updated scoreboard and press box, upgraded seating on both sides of the field and a new concessions building. The field was also expanded to be able to fit a regulation-sized soccer field.