Imagine playing football on the same field that your hometown NFL team claims as its own. For many Miami University football players, this dream becomes a reality Saturday against the University of Kentucky at Paul Brown Stadium.
“I think it’s very cool,” sophomore linebacker Alex Kaufman said. “Growing up in Cincinnati and growing up around Paul Brown Stadium and the Bengals you know the history behind it. To be able to go down to see and play on that field means a lot.”
Kaufman has been a Bengals fan since childhood. Nine years ago he went to watch his favorite team play in a brand new home, Paul Brown Stadium. Now in 2009 he prepares to take that same field himself.
The Lakota West graduate is not alone either. There are 16 other RedHawks from the Cincinnati area who share similar stories. Senior captain Dustin Woods ranks among this group that grew up alongside Saturday’s playing surface.
“I remember when the Bengals played in River Front Stadium,” Woods said. “I guess I’m that old. I think it will be really exciting, not just for the Cincinnati guys but everyone on the team.”
Although playing at Paul Brown will certainly be a special experience, Woods emphasized that it will not be a distraction. He says the team is intent on remaining focused on the task at hand, regardless of where it takes place.
“Once you get in that game time mode it’s just you and the player across from you,” Woods said. “You really don’t notice where you are in the moment. That’s what we need to focus on more than anything – the opponent and not so much the venue.“
Woods, like many of his fellow Cincinnati teammates, wanted to be close to home at college. For him, location served as a key selling point when looking at schools. Miami fit this need so well that he didn’t even make the short trip for a campus visit before making his decision.
“I’m a family man,” Woods said. “I wanted it to be close to home.”
In addition to the distance, Kaufman was also attracted by Miami’s winning tradition.
“Growing up 45 minutes outside of Oxford you grow up hearing about (Miami football),” Kaufman said. “They are in the newspaper every week and you just get comfortable with hearing about Miami sports doing well.”
Two of Kaufman’s teammates at Lakota West High School now play with him at Miami. He feels that moving up a level alongside these men greatly enhanced their relationship on and off the field. Redshirt freshman DJ Brown played with Kaufman at LWHS and said that having a former teammate play with him at Miami helped him acclimate to the team faster as it gave him a familiar face to lean on.
The flip side of this coin is that the Cincinnati area players often join forces with high school rivals as well. Former Miami wide out Ryne Robinson, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers, played against Woods during their prep football days only to later become his teammate as a RedHawk.
When Miami takes the field Saturday, excitement certainly will not be in short supply. The match against the Wildcats serves as the season opener of coach Haywood’s first campaign as a RedHawk. It gives the team a much needed fresh start and pits them against a BCS conference opponent. Paul Brown Stadium won’t be the centerpiece of Saturday’s anticipated affair, but rather the stage on which it all takes place.
“I’ve been a Bengals fan pretty much my entire life,” sophomore offensive lineman Steve Bray said. “I played in Cincinnati a long time. I’ve always seen it and been to a lot of games but never got the chance to play on that big of a field. Should be a special experience.”