Jay Hinrichs can think of no place he’d rather be than Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium on a pleasant, late-summer Saturday evening.
“I’ve probably seen well over 100 games there — as a student, grad student and volunteer on the sideline crew for over 20 years. Shoot, we even did Red Dog’s workouts in the stadium,” said 1980 KU graduate Hinrichs, now the fifth-year athletic director at the University of Northern Colorado.
His UNC Bears will kick off the 2009 football season versus the Jayhawks at 6 p.m. Saturday at the stadium he knows so well.
“No game may be more important to me from two different angles than this one: being a Jayhawk and working for the opposing institution. Emotions will run high,” Hinrichs said.
“You think about the Jayhawks often, but obviously we have a job to do at the University of Northern Colorado,” he added.
This won’t be the first time Hinrichs has rooted against his alma mater.
Northern Colorado has played men’s basketball, baseball and softball versus KU and will meet the Jayhawks in women’s basketball this winter.
He has a fond memory of traveling with the Bears’ baseball team on a road trip to KU back in the spring of 2008.
“The day after the national championship game, we were supposed to play a three-game series in Lawrence,” Hinrichs said. The first game of the set was washed out on April 8, 2008 — the day after KU’s 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis in the NCAA hoops title game.
“We were traveling across Kansas in a bus with the baseball team. We watched the game in a restaurant in Hays, then drove on to Lawrence. Mass Street was still celebrating when we got there. I directed our bus driver to get off on Iowa on the way to our hotel. It’s one of the advantages of knowing your way around,” he added with a laugh.
Hinrichs, after 18 years with the Kansas City Royals, served as associate AD for facilities planning and Williams Fund director at KU before taking over at Northern Colorado. He has something in common with his KU counterpart, Lew Perkins.
He’s a big believer in improving facilities.
Hinrichs has directed $31 million renovations to University of Northern Colorado facilities, which figures to help the school become more competitive as it adjusts to life in NCAA Div. I.
“We’ve had great support from our president,” Hinrichs said. “Northern Colorado is a great place to be. The institution is growing with facilities for the student-athletes who we hope have the best experience possible.”
As far as football ...since entering the Big Sky Conference, Northern Colorado has compiled a 3-31 overall record — 2-22 in league games. The Bears last season lost three times on the final play of the game and dropped four games by a total of 15 points.
Eight starters return on offense and defense from that 1-10 squad, including quarterback Brian Waggener, a transfer from Florida.
“It’s our turn for the ball to bounce right,” Hinrichs said, adding, “We are much better. We return a number of student-athletes on both sides of the ball and special teams. All skill positions have another year under their belt.”
Of course, the Bears enter this game as major underdogs.
It’s usually the case in what as known as a “guarantee game.” UNC will earn a $375,000 payday for appearing here.
“It’s a huge game for our budget,” Hinrichs said. “Our student-athletes and coaches appreciate Mr. Perkins, Larry Keating (senior associate AD) and coach (Mark) Mangino giving us the opportunity to experience Big 12 football in a big-time place.”
Northern Colorado fell to Purdue, 42-10, in its guarantee game a year ago and Hawaii, 63-6, in 2007.
The Bears are hoping to keep it closer this time.
“I’m very excited. Julie and Jared (wife, son) are excited. We’ve got a number of friends from Kansas City and Lawrence attending and my parents are even going to show up. You can feel the excitement here (in Greeley). It’s football game week.”