NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — After 67 years without it and one season that included all the practices but no games, football is returning to Old Dominion University on Sept. 5.

The Monarchs, who last fielded a football team in 1940, will host Chowan in their opener on Saturday, completing a more than three-year buildup that has been wildly anticipated.

When the school made season tickets available, it got orders for far more than the 14,377 it had to offer and had to convince some buyers to accept lesser packages or fewer tickets. And when it made student tickets available last Monday morning at 10 a.m., students by the hundreds camped out overnight to make sure they got theirs.

Bobby Wilder, who was hired as coach in February 2007 and has been recruiting for two seasons, said the preparation – and the excitement – have been everything he could ask.

“There’s really been no stone left unturned,” Wilder said. “I really think, next Saturday night, regardless of what happens on the football field, will be a memorable night.”

Since the school announced its intention to return to football in May 2006, it has spent about $25 million renovating 74-year-old Foreman Field, building a tower with 24 suites in it in one end zone and installing a large video scoreboard in the other. It spent $17 million to construct a building to house football, women’s lacrosse and field hockey, as well as providing practice fields, and installed an AstroTurf field at the football stadium.

Since the start of practice on Aug. 10, there has been a sense of urgency in the air the mostly urban campus hasn’t had for a long time.

No one can feel it more than the players, who showed up for their first of three intrasquad scrimmages last fall to find 4,000 fans already waiting at the stadium.

This fall, finally, they are working out with games that count awaiting on Saturdays.

“Everybody’s ready to get started and get this show on the road,” said defensive lineman Jason Fuller, a Virginia graduate from Virginia Beach who transferred to Old Dominion with one year of eligibility remaining. He’s one of 23 transfers among 88 players on the roster.

“It’s a lot different from last year being that we’re kind of in a rush to do a lot of things,” quarterback Bobby Cooper said. Cooper was in Wilder’s first recruiting class, and among those who spent all last season practicing as normal, but with no games.

“The tempo of practice, everybody’s more excited about everything,” Cooper said. “There’s not really time to screw around. … Everybody’s more serious and more focused this year.”

The Monarchs won’t join the Colonial Athletic Association in football until the 2011 season, but will play 11 games against a carefully chosen slate of teams this season.

Wilder, whose research included extended sessions at other schools that have started football programs in recent years, calls it the “most competitive startup schedule ever.”

Finding willing opponents was easy.

“I think everybody looked at it like I would have if I was at another school: ‘Hey, it’s a first-year program. Let’s get them,'” Wilder said in his sparkling new second-floor office in the 58,000-square-foot Powhatan Sports Complex built to house the football offices.

“I think it was all of about 10 minutes after I worked out a deal with Fordham that I looked at their schedule and it said homecoming next to our game,” Wilder added, laughing.

Opponents also will include Virginia Union, like Chowan a Division II team, and lightly regarded Football Championship Subdivision teams Iona, Campbell, Presbyterian and Georgetown.

Old Dominion will finish its first year against Virginia Military Institute on Nov. 21.

The players fully expect that they will surprise several of their eager opponents.

“I didn’t come here to lose,” redshirt freshman defensive back Craig Wilkins said. “I don’t think any of us came here to lose, startup program or not. We came here to win.”

Winning, school president John Broderick said, would surely help, especially on the financial end, but the benefits of fielding a team again have already been quite apparent.

“This is really expanding the reach of the campus,” Broderick said.

He said having a football team gives alumni more reason to come back to campus in the fall, and that in turn will give schools within the university a chance to showcase the work they are doing to visitors and prospective students. Having football also means having a marching band, and not having one had cost them candidates in the past, Broderick said.

On the field, Wilder wooed prospective recruits with the prospect of not breaking records, but setting them for the fledgling program, and making history in the process.

“People are going to remember these teams forever,” he told recruits.

Those now waiting to wear the school’s blue and silver against Chowan have taken it a step further, talking smack to each other about becoming the first to make that history.

“We want the first touchdown,” Wilkins said of the defense. “The first turnover. Who’s going to get the first turnover? Who’s going to make the first big play?

“Who’s going to make the first big hit that makes the crowd go wild?”

Wilder, who has coached for 27 years but will be making his debut as a head coach in the opener, laughs at his team’s excitement, but understands completely after waiting two years.

“The only thing that’s left for them now,” he said this week, “is to go into that stadium with their uniforms on in front of 20,000 people and get a chance to perform.”

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