Jedd Fisch recently saw an ESPN graphic that listed the top five student sections in college football. He noticed Arizona’s was not among them and is determined to change that.
“My plan for the ZonaZoo is to do everything I’m humanly allowed to do to make it the greatest experience for our students,” the UA head coach said Wednesday at media day.
From the moment he was hired in December, Fisch has made a point to engage with the student body. COVID-19 has complicated those efforts but the spring game in April provided a glimpse of his vision.
Fisch invited Arizona football legends Rob Gronkowski and Tedy Bruschi to coach the two teams. During breaks in the action, Fisch and Gronkowski tossed water balloons and hosed down students to cool them off. Music was blaring. It was a good time.
Fisch has more in store in the fall, including—but certainly not limited to—a DJ, a light show, and giveaways that, he hopes, will make Arizona football games the “best party in the country.”
COVID restrictions limited fan attendance for the 2020 season and the spring game, but as of now the Wildcats are planning for full capacity at Arizona Stadium this fall.
“I mean, we have what 50,000, 60,000 students here? All we need is 10,000 of them and we could sell out the ZonaZoo,” Fisch said. “I would love for people to be standing on top of one another having the best possible time they could possibly have. And if we can make the Zona Zoo the best party in the country, then I don’t have to read that ESPN College GameDay doesn’t have us in the top five.”
Stretching from end zone to end zone on the east side of the stadium, the ZonaZoo is one of the largest student sections in the country and used to be one of the most intimidating, but its enthusiasm has fluctuated in recent years as the Wildcats have struggled on the gridiron. That isn’t a uniquely Arizona problem as student attendance at college football games has dipped across the country as a whole.
Wide receivers coach Kevin Cummings, who played at Oregon State from 2011 to 2013, knows how a packed ZonaZoo can faze an opponent.
“We played here, it’s pregame and we just got out there to stretch and the ZonaZoo is just yelling at us, just yelling at us, going crazy, going nuts. I’ve got buddies in there just calling me all sorts of names,” Cummings said.
Cummings is looking forward to being on the home sideline this time. Defensive line coach Ricky Hunley, who starred at the UA in the 1980s, knows what that’s like.
“If we can pack the Zoo, that amplifies [the atmosphere] by about 10 because those people are nuts,” he said.
UA students are required to pay an annual $100 fee in order to attend football games, to which Hunley replied “why wouldn’t you buy a pass?”
For students planning to make that purchase, Cummings said the message is simple: show up, have fun and be loud until the final whistle. It makes a difference.
“We love the energy, we love the ZonaZoo and it’s something we didn’t have last year,” said senior linebacker Anthony Pandy. “It’s a big deal.”
As for the students who decide to skip the ZonaZoo experience? Well, senior kicker Lucas Havrisik has a message for them.
“It’s gonna be really fun and exciting,” he said. “People who aren’t at the games are gonna be like, ‘I wish I was there.’”