TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and Chris Jordan trotted onto the field and couldn't stop smiling about the upgrades to Bryant-Denny Stadium shortly after the latest expansion was completed.
"This is nice," said Kirkpatrick, a sophomore Crimson Tide cornerback.
"Man, this is going to be loud," agreed Jordan, a junior linebacker.
Indeed. One of college football's biggest programs now has a stadium to match.
A $65 million expansion has pushed capacity to 101,821 and made Bryant-Denny the nation's fifth-largest stadium. The South end zone work added 9,683 seats, including 36 luxury boxes.
"We're all just very proud and pleased as to how it has turned out," Tide athletic director Mal Moore said. "If you sit on the 50-yard line and look North, then look South, they're identical."
Now, the defending national champions' stadium stands behind only Michigan (109,901), Penn State (107,282), Tennessee (102,455) and Ohio State (102,329) in seating capacity. It features new video boards, along with a wrought-iron fence and brick-lined avenue along the sidelines. Red and white camellias are expected to bloom in the fall.
The "nosebleed" seats are 158 feet high. All told, the project took 22,380 cubic feet of concrete, 175,000 bricks and 16 months.
"I think the stadium looks fabulous," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "I think we had one of the best venues in college football before we made the addition of the end zone. Now we're over 101,000 people, and I think now that we may be among the top two or three venues in terms of a place to play college football of anywhere in the country. I think it's a beautiful stadium, I think it's a great place to watch a game."
Fans will get their first experience inside the bigger Bryant-Denny on Saturday against San Jose State.
It's the second expansion of the last four years following a fundraising campaign that has at the least allowed Alabama to catch up with most of its rivals.
This expansion comes at a time when Saban is vaulting the program back to the top of college football. Alabama's football fortunes were up and down, with coaching changes, athletic leadership in flux and NCAA troubles, when the money-raising campaign started in 2002.
"At that time we had reached a real low," Moore said. "We had fallen way behind. There had been uncertainty with our turnover at the AD position, and changing of the coaching staffs and so forth. Problems with the NCAA. It was very tough on this department, but we simply felt that we couldn't wait until all of that ended to see where we were and decide what to do.
"We thought we had to do something to correct facilities to give our coaches a chance to recruit the great players, to develop competitive teams, and to support athletes to reach their potential in every sport here. I think what we've done has done exactly that."
The program didn't really turn around until Saban's hiring before the 2007 season.
The South end zone includes a massive area called "The Zone" where ticketholders can hang out and eat before, during and after games for $500 a year. They can't see the field, unlike the pricier area for luxury box holders above.
Alabama officials offered up 1,000 tickets, 500 below capacity as a trial run.
"It sold out in two weeks," said Thad Turnipseed, the Tide's director of athletic facilities.
With both end zones filled out, lead architect Courtney Puttman doesn't see much room for further growth in the stadium.
"I think this was meant to be the final touch to the stadium," she said, "the final statement about Crimson Tide football."