Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Random thoughts from Saturday’s SIU football game:

Saluki sprint: Personally, there is little in the world of sport that compares to opening day of the college football season.

The sight of the Marching Salukis taking the first for the first time gets the hair on my arm standing up. Walking through the tailgate area, seeing people laughing and enjoying each other’s company, it’s uplifting.

Then, there are the intoxicating aromas wafting off grills on the long trek to the media entrance.

But, the Saluki Sprint has become my personal opening day highlight.

The Saluki Sprint was first implemented three or four years ago. Members of the incoming freshman class meet outside the stadium and sprint across the field just before the starting lineups are announced.

This year’s freshman class is supposedly small. The vast majority of them must have attended Saturday’s game, because they just kept pouring out of the south gate.

It’s entertaining to watch the students as they run across the field.

Several made physical statements this year, sprinting full speed across the field — several might consider trying to walk-on to the team next year. Others appear just happy to be there, taking a more leisurely pace. And, one young lady’s effort was particularly impressive, walking across the field with a cast up to her knee. That’s dedication.

And, since no one tripped or face-planted, the Saluki Sprint has to be considered a success.

Which way did they go? Which way did they go?: With beer sales now allowed at Saluki football games, I was wondering how many fans would actually stay in the stadium to watch the second half? Historically, Saluki fans head to the exits in waves at intermission.

The answer, unfortunately, was not many.

Granted, all drama had been removed from the game by intermission. The Salukis held a commanding 44-3 lead.

I’d like to think a closer contest would have kept more fans in the stands, but it’s obvious there is more to this phenomenon than readily available beer or a close game.

I have some theories.

If fans start tailgating two hours before the game, they have already have four hours invested by halftime. That’s a significant chunk of the day.

The other thought is that Saluki football is a social, not athletic, priority. Fans that attend Saluki football games just don’t appear to be as invested in wins and losses as basketball fans.

Thumbs up: Given the way the Salukis dominated Mississippi Valley State, it’s difficult to get a true picture of the Saluki team, but there were a couple real positives.

First, backup quarterback Tanner Hearn played most of the second half and acquitted himself quite well. Again, the level of competition was suspect, but that experience could prove invaluable if he is forced into action later in the season.

Second, the athleticism of the defense was apparent. Again, this observation could be clouded by the level of competition, but Saluki defenders seemed to get to the ball quickly. And, the interceptions by Jeremy Chinn and Victor Abraham came on crazy athletic plays.

LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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