It's kind of an underground thing. You have to know the right people. You have got to get the right crew of people that are really dedicated. People say they really want to come, but if you don't have people here all the time you lose your place. You've got to have the right crew. —Amy Thornton
A few short years ago, there was little reason to show up early for a BYU game. There were a few small tailgate tents here and there, but there certainly wasn't any camping out outside the stadium.
That has all changed in the past few seasons.
BYU has greatly improved its pregame atmosphere with a few simple changes. Here's two that have come a long way.
Not so long ago, BYU students were scattered across LaVell Edwards Stadium during BYU games. There were student sections, but there really wasn't a student section. No one camped out before football games because students were given assigned seats.
All of that changed in 2013 when the ROC, short for Roar Of the Cougars, was born.
The ROC is the new home for BYU's student section, and it lives in the southeast part of LaVell Edwards Stadium. It's easy to pick out during a game because it's usually the most tightly packed part of the stadium. Plus, there's the coordinated dancing, special signs and terrific energy that shoots through the stadium like a shockwave.
The other thing that happened was assigned seating within the student section was replaced with a first come, first served system. Now, the most hardcore student fans don't show up mere minutes before the game.
They show up days in advance. See the above video from the a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_sT9HRVK-rhsGESzmpYHBg">ROC's YouTube channel.
Ryan Rasmussen was at the front of the ROC line that stretched across the east side of LaVell Edwards Stadium with a bunch of his friends. So, what does it take to be one of the first people in line?
He got in line at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. That's four days before the actual game.
Now, Rasmussen didn't stay all four days in line. Instead, he was a part of a crew of 15 to 20 people who took turns hanging outside LaVell Edwards Stadium to earn their place at the front of the line.
Amy Thornton was one of the members of that crew. She spent 10-12 hours in line to help preserve their place.
"It's kind of an underground thing. You have to know the right people," Thornton said. "You have got to get the right crew of people that are really dedicated. People say they really want to come, but if you don't have people here all the time you lose your place. You've got to have the right crew."
Needless to say, Thornton loves this tradition at BYU.
"I love the spirit," Thornton said. "I love that everyone is just so game for everything, and that everyone is so supportive."
BYU's players and coaching staff love and support the ROC line as well. Last season, head coach Bronco Mendenhall bought 100 pizzas for students waiting in line outside the stadium.
"It kinda felt like an amazing college football experience," Mendenhall said of the ROC line. "I just as soon have them sleep out there and stay and have a ROC concert going as well and make it an event. So, I just wanted in a small way to show my appreciation and thanks."
Just that one change has helped completely change the atmosphere around LaVell Edwards Stadium before and after the kickoff.
Another tradition that started the same year as the ROC line was the Cougar Walk. That's where the players and coaches greet fans on their way into LaVell Edwards Stadium with the ROC line cheering them on.
Granted, several other college football teams have had traditions like this in place for much longer. However, as BYU has traveled to Power 5 schools such as Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Texas and Nebraska, it seems that the Cougars are incorporating more of those traditions on game day.
And that's a wonderful thing to see.
Tailgating is alive and better than ever in Provo
Those who think that BYU fans don't tailgate should take a trip up to the parking lot just outside the communications building on game day and see for themselves.
Like the ROC, tailgating up in this section on campus is a fairly recent development. Adrian Jenkins, also known as the Mayor of Tailgating, is one of the big reasons why tailgating has taken off in that lot. His area alone is home to more than 100 tailgaters.
"I actually start Wednesday night," Jenkins said of his preparations. "It's a three-day thing getting ready for this."
Part of getting ready was making some excellent pulled pork for hungry fans. He had several smoked pork butts and plenty more food and drink provided by other BYU tailgaters.
The scene wasn't so swinging just a few years before.
"I started four years ago, and it was a small group," Jenkins said. "At that time it was me and my four kids. There was other people around us, so I thought it would be fun if we all got together. So, I started organizing where I would decide what we were having and people would start bringing things, and it just grew. And then it would grow more."
Now, there's several tailgating parties across the parking lot.
No, tailgating isn't at Ole Miss levels, but it's certainly come a long way. Even opposing fans are taking notice. Micah Cranny and Darran Coburn came down from Idaho with a sweet Boise State trailer to join in the fun.
"We were here two years ago, and it was just a parking lot," Cranny said. "I think [the changes] create a better atmosphere. It's been fun interacting with these guys."
And while Cranny was talking with me, a person from Jenkins' tailgate came by with some pulled pork. Cranny had already provided some meat, including what he called chicken bombs.
"Chicken bombs are jalapenos with cream cheese inside a chicken breast wrapped in bacon smothered in barbecue sauce and grilled," Cranny told me. And yes, they are as delicious as they sound.
There's plenty of goodwill between the two fan bases. "They're really friendly sportsmen," Coburn said. "It's been really nice."
"The BYU tailgaters have been very friendly and very accommodating," Cranny said. "They've asked me if I need anything. A lot of them come by and tell us thanks for coming."
Clearly, BYU's pregame atmosphere has improved a lot under athletic director Tom Holmoe. Holmoe even wandered over to Jenkins' tailgate, according to Drew Scholl, another BYU tailgater and owner-operator of the Loyal Cougar T-Shirt Club. "He's been so supportive of the fans and what we do here," Scholl said.
So, the next time you go to a BYU game, check out the ROC line and the tailgating. They're a hotbed of new traditions at BYU.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.