Fans tailgate throughout the Hill

Doug Hix, left, and Dwayne Alvey, Scott’s Waste employees of Bowling Green, cook hot dogs and burgers on their grill before the WKU game against Austin Peay Saturday. The Toppers went on to win 49-10 in front of a crowd of 16,237.

Anna Anderson

WKU fans flocked to campus Saturday to cheer on the Toppers in their first game of the season against Austin Peay State University.

Despite the construction and the heat — and then the torrential rain — tailgaters clad in red and white still pitched their tents, fired up their grills and hunkered down until game time at 6 p.m.

“This is our school,” said Fred Meyer of Kenway Concrete in Bowling Green.

Meyer, a season ticket holder who camps out near Gilbert Hall, has tailgated at WKU football games since he was a student from 1990 to 1993.

Since the WKU football team became Football Bowl Subdivision members., Meyer said the Tops have been playing bigger schools with loyal followers who travel with their teams.

WKU students and alumni should have a strong presence, too.

For the past eight years, Meyer said he has been tailgating with the same group of friends and their children.

“It’s a meeting place where all the kids can come together,” Meyer said.

But tailgating doesn’t just bring together Meyer and his friends. The whole lawn becomes a community.

Meyer attributes this closeness to WKU’s policy requiring tailgaters in premium sections to purchase specific parking spots.

For him, being around the same people from week to week helped him meet more WKU supporters.

“Everybody is really nice,” said Heather Wade, a 2001 graduate of WKU.

Wade, who is an attorney in Bowling Green, said this was her first year buying a spot for the season.

Originally, she had wanted to be on South Lawn close to the Preston Center, but she wasn’t able to get a space there because of the renovations of Downing University Center.

Yet, Wade said that she liked her spot on the lawn near McCormack Hall and would probably enjoy tailgating there for years to come.

“I couldn’t be happier,” she said.

Ken Frascinelli said WKU implemented this year’s tailgating changes well. His children and their spouses graduated from WKU, and they’ve been tailgating for about five years.

“I was impressed by the way they handled us coming in today,” he said.

Meyer was also happy with the new tailgating arrangements, though he said he was disappointed when Saturday’s Topper Walk, the football team’s boisterous walk from the top of the Hill to Smith Stadium, was cancelled because of the rain.

Aside from the smell of barbecue and the sound of party music wafting through campus, there was also a sense of expectation for the coming season.

“We’ve got good momentum going into this season,” Wade said. “So I’m pumped.”

Frascinelli said he was expecting eight wins this season, beginning with the Toppers 49-10 victory over Austin Peay.

Meyer is certain that WKU’s football team will do better than last season. He’s been rooting for WKU through the switch to Division I-A in 2009 and the subsequent years until last season’s turnaround. This season, he thinks the Tops will win big.

“We’ll get a bowl game,” he said.