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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Hancock Whitney Stadium – South Alabama Jaguars


Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

Hancock Whitney Stadium 500 Stadium Dr Mobile, AL 36608

Year Opened: 2020

Capacity: 25,450

 

USA! – USA! – USA!

The University of South Alabama is a medium-sized school of 15,000 students located in Mobile that opened in 1963. The Jaguars football team was officially born in December 2007 when the school voted to allow football to be played beginning in 2009. After 12 years the final touches of a program that was literally started from the ground up are on display with the opening of Hancock Whitney Stadium, which opened in 2020.


Named after a Mississippi-based bank, the state-of-the-art, $80 million, 25,450-seat stadium replaced the aging Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which is located about 8 miles off-campus. The outdated facility, which opened in 1950, hosted the Jags during the first 11 years of their existence. Despite having a few successful first seasons, since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2012 the Jags have not had a lot of winning seasons, never winning more than six games. However, they have had two bowl appearances and one NFL draft pick who played in a Super Bowl, Rams Tight End Gerald Everett.


Because the stadium opened during the 2020 season, capacity was limited to only 25%. As that seating was taken up mostly by students, boosters, and season ticket holders, not a lot of people could get the full experience during its first season. Now, Hancock Whitney Stadium is operating at full capacity, and the atmosphere is way more exciting during its second season. Jags fans haven't had a lot to cheer for since joining the FBS, but maybe the opening of their first on-campus home stadium will change that.


Food and Beverage 4

There is no shortage of concessions stands with ten permanent stands throughout the facility. The usual fare of hamburgers ($5), corn dogs ($4), hot dogs ($3), nachos ($3), pretzels ($3), and popcorn ($2) can be found, but they also sell chicken sandwiches ($7), Conecuh Sausage ($6), and pork nachos ($6). They also have a chicken tenders and fries combo ($7) and a Philly cheesesteak combo ($8). Coke is the soft drink provider with 32 oz. drinks in a souvenir cup ($4), or you can get a 20 oz. Dasani bottled water ($3). There is also a large Sonny’s BBQ built into a permanent stand in the south end zone that sells its own menu items as well.


There are several beer stands located throughout the stadium which sell 16 oz. Michelob Ultra and White Claw ($7), or Bud Light, Miller, and Coors ($6). The concessions here sell mixed drinks as well, and you can also get beer from the permanent concessions stands.


One thing that is new for the 2021 season is the huge outdoor bar located on the south concourse in the end zone, near the Michelob Ultra Terrace, and in front of the team store. The large center bar is open on all sides with actual seating, and all the beers listed above and more with great views of the playing field. This is definitely a popular feature added on for the season. This bar is one area of the stadium where the lines back up though, while for the most part traffic ran smoothly for all the concessions.


If you’re lucky enough to have a club-level ticket to the Hargrove Club, there is a full-service buffet style platter up there, as well as a bar that sells a more extensive collection of alcoholic drinks and an executive chef who cooks all the food. The Hargrove Club is located on the west side of the stadium under the press box.


Atmosphere 4

The Jaguars finally have an on-campus stadium to call their own, so this automatically makes the atmosphere much better than at their previous home. The biggest problem with Ladd-Peebles Stadium is that it is old and beginning to show its age. The whole experience was kind of bland with no signs anywhere signifying that South Alabama even played there, as it was basically an oversized high school stadium. All that has changed now and with the stadium decked out in red, white, and blue, there’s no denying that you are in Jags Country.


From the outside the stadium is much smaller than what fans would be used to. The field faces north and south, with a design shaped like an octagon, almost reminiscent of a soccer stadium. There are three entrances into the stadium, with the main entrance and ticket office being behind the south end zone, but once inside the stadium you can see it’s not so small after all. The first level along with the field are built below the ground, meaning you walk in and look down at the field from the concourse. The playing field is named after Abraham Mitchell, a donor who donated $5 million for the construction of the stadium. The Mitchell Family also gives their name to the school’s Business School, and to the Jags’ basketball arena Mitchell Center.


The new feel is quite evident here walking the beautiful and spacious concourse. There is plenty of room walking around, and that's because the concourse is open in such a way that allows the stadium to expand when they increase the seating capacity. The stadium will increase the capacity from 25,000 to 32,000 in a few years and then eventually to 40,000.

In the south end zone make sure you take time to walk around the Jaguar Team Store, the Locker Room, which is quite large and makes up most of the area in the south end zone. There is a decent selection of USA gear in here, and prices are reasonable; there was even a 50% off sale on certain items. Much like how minor league baseball team stores are built into their stadiums, you literally walk out the doors and you are in the concourse with a perfect view of the field. In addition, outside the team store is a giant South Alabama logo that makes for a perfect photo; I saw many fans getting their pictures taken with the field in the background.


Above the team store is the giant beautiful state-of-the-art videoboard, which is one of the largest video boards in the state. I couldn’t find an official list of scoreboards by size in Alabama, so I looked up pictures of other stadiums in Alabama, and the one here looks like the second-largest in the state next to Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. Also in the south end zone is the Michelob Ultra Terrace, which extends from the concourse to the field; this is the stadium’s party deck area and features several rows with drink rails that offer field-level views of the field. The party deck also has the ability to turn into a stage for concerts and other events. As mentioned there is a nice open bar right in front of the entrance to Michelob Ultra Terrace, so you can grab your food and drinks and go sit down at a table, or stand up and rest your drink on the rails. In 2020 because of the pandemic the Terrace was closed off and only the band had access to the area, but now this area is fully packed with fans and is definitely the party atmosphere of the stadium. The four-story Mobile County Commission for Student Athlete Success building overlooks the north side of the stadium; this building houses classrooms, the athletic department offices, and the locker rooms.


Neighborhood 3

As Alabama’s third largest city, Mobile has plenty to offer and remains a great town known for its southern charm and hospitality. Mobile remains a very underrated city with plenty to do, and you can find plenty of attractions around the city without dealing with large crowds of tourists.

The college is mostly located in a residential area away from all the attractions, but there are a few restaurants in the area. Within walking distance of campus you will find numerous places to eat such as Fuzzy Tacos, Mellow Mushroom, Ollie’s Mediterranean Grill, and Heroes Sports Bar. Foosackly’s is a chicken joint a few blocks from the stadium and has cheap food, while right next door Cookout has cheap hamburgers and hot dogs for sale. Or if you want BBQ, Dreamland (an Alabama staple) has several locations in Mobile and I highly recommend a visit.


To experience Mobile at its best I recommend taking the 15-minute drive east to downtown where all the attractions and nightlife are located. If you take Government Street or Dauphin Street into downtown pay attention to the many historic buildings located on this stretch. Mobile is a very historic city, and this is shown by its many beautiful antebellum houses and buildings that date back to the 1800s. Dauphin Street looks just like Bourbon Street except with fewer tourists; in fact the whole downtown area retains that French Quarter feel as well. Some of the bars and restaurants I recommend include Alchemy Tavern, Hayley’s Bar, FIVE Mobile, Loda Biergarten, Haberdashier, and Dumbwaiter, which are all good bars located on Dauphin Street. Or if you are looking for seafood, Wintzell’s Oyster House and Chuck’s Fish have you covered. If you are looking for a nice sit-down restaurant try Dauphin’s, located on the 34th floor of Mobile’s tallest building.


For attractions in Mobile, the main tourist attraction is the USS Alabama battleship – the ship is a World War II-era ship that fought in the war. It is located under the I-10 causeway when coming out from the tunnel. The ship is available for touring and I highly recommend visiting. Other things to do in Mobile include Fort Conde, a replica of an old 1700s era fort, which is a cool place to visit if you are interested in history. For kids and families the Exploreum and IMAX Theatre are nearby as well. Also, if you want to make a beach trip, the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange are about an hour away. If staying in the area you will find numerous hotels along Airport Rd and Old Shell Road, as well as several high-rise hotels located in downtown Mobile to stay in as well.


Fans 4

A few problems South Alabama dealt with in the past is that Ladd-Peebles Stadium was about a 15 to 20-minute drive away from the school, so not a lot of students would make the trek over for games. Also, as the program has been exceptionally bad in recent years support for the football program was not very good, and with a capacity of 40,000 Ladd-Peebles Stadium was also too big a stadium for a school the size of USA.

Now that the Jags are playing on campus, fan support is at an all-time high. Unfortunately Hancock Whitney Stadium opened in 2020 and fan capacity was limited to 25%, but fortunately the year was also used as a test run for the Jags operations department to fix the kinks and work on things to do better when the stadium operated at full capacity. Now that the stadium is operating at 100%, many fans took advantage to get the full experience they could not get last year.


The University of South Alabama is located in the south where tailgating is almost a religion – that is no exception here as throughout the campus are thousands of tents with people tailgating. All over campus you'll find tents set up full of families, alumni, students, and others enjoying a cold beverage, watching football on the big screen, and playing various games, something that was not evident in 2020.


Once inside the stadium the whole place is a sea of red, white, and blue – the complete opposite of how it used to be. Many of the fans seemed into the game and stayed through the end. Because the Jags compete in the Sun Belt Conference many of the schools are within a few hours driving distance of Mobile, so expect a lot of visiting fans in attendance as well; that was the case here at the most recent game I attended, as I would say it was 60% South Alabama fans and 40% visiting fans.


Access 2

When the Jags played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium it was very easy to get to as the stadium was located right off the interstate. Because no fans would attend games back then, getting in and out wasn't a problem. Unfortunately with the opening of Hancock Whitney Stadium there is no easy way to get to campus; USA’s campus is located in northwest Mobile on the corner of Old Shell Road and University Blvd. No matter which direction you are coming from you will encounter numerous red lights en route to campus. Mobile can also have horrendous traffic, so it is best to plan for traffic delays when attending a game. Fortunately, with games being on Saturdays you don’t have to worry about rush hour traffic.


The main drawback is just how far the interstate is from campus – Interstate 10 travels east and west and is about 10 miles south, while I-65 runs about 5 miles to the east of campus; these are the main roads you would come in on if coming to campus. There are several different ways to get here if coming from out of town; I-10 runs right into I-65 and from there you can take the Spring Hill Road exit, then go about 5 miles until you get to campus. Or, if you want to go the back way you could take the Schillinger Road exit off I-10 and go about 8 miles to campus. Mobile Regional Airport is located about 10 minutes west of campus and is the main airport in the area with flights to anywhere in the southeast.


Once on campus the stadium and facilities are toward the back side. The stadium is kind of hard to find if you are not familiar with the campus, but it’s on the northwest side. The campus is huge but there are plenty of lots on campus to park in, with most lots costing $20 to park but some of the back lots costing $10. There are also some lots on the back side that did not charge for parking, but you would be making a hike to get to the stadium. The campus also offers a free shuttle that runs continuously from the north side of campus to the stadium.


Once in the stadium though, everything is perfect – there is plenty of room to walk around and no lines at the concession stands. In the seating bowl everything is designed in such a way that there are perfect field views from all vantage points in the stadium. There’s ample room to move around the stadium and that newness feel is evident here, as everything from the restrooms to the concourse is spotless.


Return on Investment 3

Many of the tickets are already taken up by season ticket holders and students; the entire first level of the east and west sides were already sold prior to the season, so the only single game tickets available are along the upper decks and the first level in the end zones. The upper deck prices remain $25 and the lower deck prices in the end zones remain $36. Some fans may not be used to the high prices compared to how they were in the past, however, you are getting to see one of the premiere mid-major venues in the country. Counting the cost of parking and concessions, one could attend a game at Hancock Whitney Stadium for $50 to $70.


Extras 3

Beginning in 2021 Hancock Whitney Stadium became the new home of the Senior Bowl. The annual postseason college football had been played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium since 1951. The Senior Bowl has become a tradition in Mobile and is definitely the city's biggest sporting event of the year. One extra for the overall history of the game itself as old school players like Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, Walter Payton, Mean Joe Greene, Brett Favre, Bo Jackson, and Michael Strahan who have all played in the game over the years, while the newer generation of football players like Dak Prescott, Tim Tebow, Jalen Hurts, Baker Mayfield, and Justin Herbert have all made a stop in Mobile on their way to the NFL. Now the next crop of future NFL stars will get to come through Hancock Whitney Stadium on their way to the NFL.


With the opening of Hancock Whitney Stadium there was much uncertainty and controversy regarding the future of the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, with some groups preferring the game stay put. Ultimately the game ended up being moved – though Hancock Whitney Stadium has a smaller seating capacity, it provides a much more intimate setting.


Another extra for the facilities that surround the stadium – on the west side is the 49,000-square foot football field house, which opened in 2009 and houses the weight rooms and film rooms. The field house has a nice metal statue of a football player diving in the endzone while being tackled. To the side of the field house lie the football practice fields, which include the beautiful Jaguar Training Center, which opened in 2018. This facility is a football field that is open on all sides but has a roof over the playing field so the Jags can practice during the frequent Mobile thunderstorms. At 96,000-square feet and 60-foot high, the center is the largest indoor practice facility in the State of Alabama. In years past only one day of the Senior Bowl practices has been moved into this facility, but now all the Senior Bowl practices take place at the Training Center.


Another extra just for the beauty of Hancock Whitney Stadium. Not a lot of college football stadiums open every year, so being able to attend a game during its first or second season is obviously a plus. I don't really count the game I attended in 2020 as obviously there were certain factors that inhibited me from giving it a good review, but after attending a game here in 2021 I can say Hancock Whitney Stadium and the facilities surrounding it are some of the most underrated in the country, and easily the best in the Sun Belt Conference. The Jags program is definitely on the rise thanks in part to the great addition that is Hancock Whitney Stadium.


Final Thoughts

Before the opening of Hancock Whitney Stadium the South Alabama Football program did not offer much in terms of history, tradition, or fan support. It literally changed overnight, and now thanks in part to their first on-campus home fan support is at an all-time high, and it'll be interesting watching this program only get better in the coming years. I highly recommend a visit to Hancock Whitney Stadium for a South Alabama football game or for the Senior Bowl.

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