The University of Hawaii football team held a practice at Clarence T.C. Ching Stadium on Thursday, marking the first time the Rainbow Warriors took the field at their new home.

After Aloha Stadium was deemed unsafe to hold crowds of any nature in December 2020, UH acted quickly to find a new field and decided to hold official games on campus for the first time in program history.

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An accelerated project to the retrofitted T.C. Ching Athletics Complex included changes such as increasing seating to a capacity of 9,000 spectators in 2021 and a new turf surface on the field which features a two-toned look.

“I think it’s definitely special. Just coming out and being on the turf for the first time, I was excited. It looked really good to me,” safety Khoury Bethley said. “It just looks better when you’re on the field than just sitting outside and looking at it from the construction angle and all that so I was excited and I can’t wait to play on it this season.

“When they announced it, I was a little skeptical like, ‘Man, I don’t know how it’s gonna come out.’ But just watching the process, how it’s come along, it’s been amazing to me and just knowing that we’re gonna be able to have more students involved at the games and just more people in town coming along and it’s going to be a great atmosphere so I’m really looking forward to it.”

The ‘Bows open the 2021 season at UCLA on Aug. 28. The following week, UH will play at its new home for the first time in a 6 p.m. contest against Portland State.

“We’re just trying to get ready to play UCLA. At the end of the day, the field’s 53 and 1/3 yards wide and 100 yards long so I don’t spend a lot of time on all that,” UH head coach Todd Graham said. “I think what’s gonna be awesome is when we play our first game here and for our students to be on campus is gonna be big time.”

Thursday also marked the first full day after UH-Manoa announced its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the athletic department. Previously, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine was highly encouraged among the football team. During media availability following Thursday’s practice, left tackle Ilm Manning revealed that he had COVID-19 during the 2020 season, causing him to miss multiple games. He has also received a COVID-19 vaccine, realizing how vital that step is towards playing every game in the 2021 season.

“It definitely was split down the middle at one point,” Manning said. “People didn’t want to get it, people after their own story, their own reasoning as to why they’re not getting it and stuff like that and you gotta stay on the side on that. You can’t disrespect that, that’s their choice. My experience, that’s why I did get vaccinated because missing the two games definitely I feel like made me go down a little bit.

“I got the coronavirus, I beat it off, I was able to come back and play the last bowl game which was very fun, and that was my best game too but other than that, missing two games definitely tore me down a little bit because it’s fun playing football and having the coronavirus, being stuck in a hotel for 10 days is horrible but definitely that experience is why I got vaccinated.”