COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Carolina Band is busy preparing for the first University of South Carolina football game coming up this Saturday. The band has been practicing each evening for 90 minutes to get ready for the season.
AJ Johnston is a saxophone player and drum major for the band
"Being on the edge of that sound and on the receiving end on the field is probably one of the best feelings that I’ve ever had," he told me.
Johnston is ready for that same feeling to come back this weekend during the season’s first football game. Director of athletic bands Jay Jacobs says a lot of practice is helping members gear up.
"This is it, this is game week," Jacobs said. "You’ve got to bring it for a full 90 minutes every day that we rehearse this week and that’s gonna make Saturday seem that much more enjoyable."
Jacobs tells me there are 50 more band members across 60 different academic majors this year, so Gamecock fans can expect a louder sound and more energy.
"This feels like this the first year where we’ve been able to get back to what has been normal," Jacobs said.
Students Ivy Nisler and Raquel Nelson are planning to attend Saturday's game. To them, the band "definitely adds to the gameday experience."
"I couldn’t really imagine a gameday without a band," Nelson shared. "It would just be a lot less exciting."
Senior students JJ Forster and Buddy Ramantanin will also be in Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend.
"When it comes to music, I’m a big sucker for singalongs," Forster said about what he's hoping to hear from the band. "So it’d be awesome to get some songs in there that I know and love."
According to band member Kaitlyn Dirr, that’s what the band hopes to bring.
"We’re trying to make sure we’re playing stuff that everybody knows," she said. "Not just a small group this season."
Dirr plays the mellophone, which is an activity she's able to do because of the band.
"Being a student in STEM, I don’t get a chance to play my instrument outside of marching band," Dirr said. "This is a really great way to keep pursuing that hobby."
The team will continue to practice leading up to the game, even in the Carolina heat. Tuba players Ron Williamson and Rece Howard say the hot temperatures can make practice hard, but "it’s very worth it in the end."
"You’re battling the elements physically but it’s mentally to continue through it and to keep coming back every single day, putting the same amount of effort in," Howard said.
But to them, it's worth it.
"It’s a once in a lifetime experience, that first game in Williams-Brice. And once you do it, you’ll feel something you’ve never felt before. And it’s just a great reward you get," Howard explained.
For trumpet player Donovan Ouzts, it's more than just a band.
"I seriously think this might have been like one of the shaping moments of my life," Ouzts said. "Is just being a part of the Carolina Band over the past four years."
Jacobs says Saturday’s game will have a cookout theme.
"We’re gonna kind of celebrate Labor Day weekend and the summer with some traditional fun cookout tunes you might have in your backyard with your grill going," Jacobs said.