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Official Review by Ed Pelle, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Monmouth University is a private institution arranged across a beautiful campus in West Long Branch, New Jersey. The school is located only a few blocks from the Jersey Shore. It is sometimes referred to as Monmouth (NJ) to distinguish it from the NCAA Division III Monmouth College located in Illinois.
The football team has a relatively short history, beginning play in 1993 at the FCS level (known as NCAA Division I-AA at the time) which coincided with the opening of Kessler Field. After playing as an independent, the team joined the Northeast Conference where it has excelled for much of its existence, winning or sharing five league titles. Monmouth had the honor of playing in the very first Northeast Conference Football game when the league came into existence on September 14, 1996 against St Francis (PA).
In 2012 Monmouth concluded their final year of competition in the Northeast Football Conference as they announced their intentions to join the Big South Football Conference. This move follows the path of former Northeast Football Conference member Stony Brook University who also left following the 2006 season to pursue Big South Football. Leaving the Northeast Football Conference allows for more football scholarships to be offered to players on the team and is a significant step in the development of the program. In 2015 the Monmouth Hawks will play their first FBS team at Central Michigan.
There are three NCAA Division I football programs in the state of New Jersey. While Princeton and Rutgers football are the two oldest programs in the country with history and traditions stretching back to the birth of the game, the game experience at these schools, while each a great environment, is a bit detached from the state in which they play. Upstart Monmouth University football provides an authentic Jersey experience that surpasses its in-state rivals.
Guiding the team from its inception, the school has had only one coach, Kevin Callahan, who has positioned the school on its upward trajectory.
On February 22, 2014 the football team retired its first jersey #80, Miles Austin most known from his time in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are two concession stands located under the seating area to serve patrons. Some of the items on the menu include sausage and peppers ($6), chicken cheesesteak ($6), pulled pork ($6), hot dog ($3), popcorn ($2), and pretzels ($2).
Monmouth University serves Coca-Cola brand products. There are also three hot drinks available for purchase including coffee ($2), hot chocolate ($2) and hot apple cider ($2), the latter of which I enjoyed so much I had several cups throughout the afternoon as refills are free.
Known more formally as Henni Kantor Kessler & John H. Kessler Field, the stadium was named after two benefactors who donated funds for its construction. Kessler Field is located next to the Multipurpose Activity Center, the home of Monmouth Hawks men's and women's basketball on the western side of campus.
Kessler Field is situated east-west with one seating area along the south side of the field. Most of the stands are aluminum benches stretching from 20 yard line to 20 yard line. Below the press box at midfield there is a section with chairback seating for season ticket holders. An outdoor track encircles the field which is also home to men's and women's outdoor track teams. Kessler Field is also home to the men's and women's lacrosse teams.
One of the problems with Kessler Field is the lack of true restrooms. On the west side of the stands there are eight portable restroom facilities which are less than 100 feet from an area that serves food. Another problem is that much of the area beneath the stands is not paved.
The university plans to embark on a $15 million renovation of Kessler Field to be completed by the start of the 2015 season to address its growing needs.
In 2005, Kessler Field underwent renovations including the installation of artificial turf. That original turf was replaced in June of 2014. Some of the further renovations to the stadium that are planned include expanding the bleachers to the length of the field which would expand the capacity, upgrades to the press box and a brick facade that would encircle the seating area.
West Long Branch is the kind of neighborhood most Americans aspire to live in. It's quiet, semi-upscale suburbia, with a huge mall near by. Although this area would be considered a suburb of New York City, the region certainly has an identity and culture of its own.
One of the more popular places to eat in near Monmouth University is Surf Taco in Long Branch. It's known to locals as a great place to visit for affordable Mexican cuisine near the ocean. Consequently, business is generally brisk. They have a few other locations near the Jersey Shore area. Best of all they offer football specials during days when football is nationally televised and they have televisions that broadcast the action. Some of the items listed on the menu are surf burrito ($7.95), Baja bowl ($7.95), any two tacos, rice, beans, chips and a fountain drink ($8.50), chicken enchiladas ($8.95), quesadilla ($5.50), and nachos ($7.25).
The Jersey Coast is known quite infamously for its nightlife. If you are looking for a great local place to have a genuine experience I would recommend Avenue, which is a restaurant and nightclub located right on the ocean in Long Branch.
The fans show a lot support for their Hawks. Averaging over 3,500 fans per game the Hawks reach near capacity at Kessler Field for nearly all football home games. The Hawks have also led their departed Northeast Conference in attendance on multiple occasions.
Adjacent to the field is a large parking lot, which is a great central location to tailgate. Most fans will begin their game day in the lot until just prior to kickoff. Since alcohol is not served at this college stadium any consumption of adult beverages has to be done prior to game time. Playing in the shadows of Metlife Stadium, fans here are well versed in tailgating.
One of the other places fans can go is the MAC which is left open to the public on game days. Here fans can visit Leon Hess Champions Hall which overlooks the parking area. This hall is dedicated to the former New York Jets owner for whom a business school at the university is also named. Some of the flatscreen televisions in this hall are usually tuned to various sporting events that are nationally televised.
Fans here have a deep connection to the team since the team recruits heavily in state, particularly in the high school football hotbed of South Jersey.
Most visitors to Monmouth will drive as there are limited options otherwise. The university is not far from exit 105 on the Garden State Parkway which is a heavily used toll road that runs north-south along the coast of New Jersey. After heading east on New Jersey Route 36 you will have to cross several intersections that have red light cameras installed before veering south toward campus.
The Elberton Station on the New Jersey Coast Line serviced by NJ Transit Rail Service is the closest public transportation option. This station is located a mile and a half away so it may not be a viable option for some and can be a difficult commute during times of inclement weather.
Upon arrival you will have to pay a $5 fee for parking in the main lot. General admission tickets cost $10 for adults while students/senior tickets are also available for $6. Other than the area of chairback seating, the seating arrangement is open to first come first serve. When you consider that the least expensive NY Jets tickets have a face value of $50, a full day's worth of entertainment here will not even approach that sum.
There is a balcony located on the west side of the MAC overlooking Kessler Field where fans can watch the game from a different perspective near the Monmouth Athletic Hall of Fame which is worthy of a point.
Also, I recommend visiting Wilson Hall while on campus, which is known more commonly in popular culture as the palatial home of Annie in the 1982 film of the same name.
When you experience an event at Monmouth University you really can sense an energy around the athletic program. That might be because the future is bright and the program is growing. The planned stadium upgrades are eagerly awaited and I hope to return in the near future to witness the further progression.
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