BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Thirteen years ago, Thirlby Field was Ryan Brown's home.
Next Saturday, it will be once again.
After having the weekend off with a bye, Brown and the rest of his Traverse City Wolves teammates will be at the historic TC stadium for the home opener against the London Silverbacks.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
From his high school days, Brown has plenty of memories at Thirlby Field. Being in the first graduating class at TC West, he scored the first Titans touchdown against rival TC Central in the inaugural Crosstown Showdown.
"Central scored first," Brown said. "(My touchdown) was short, maybe a 3-yard run. I barely got in. It was nothing special, but they gave it to me and I took it."
Brown's lasting memory, though, came in the season opener his junior year for Traverse City Central.
"I was on the field for the opening kick return and the sound of the crowd was so dang loud," Brown said. "I couldn't believe how loud the crowd got."
Brown went on to play football at Northwood University, but said he never heard a crowd as loud as the one at Thirlby.
The Wolves are hoping for a similar type of atmosphere on Saturday.
"We sure hope so," Wolves coach Brad Haney said of a big attendance at the game. "We had a pretty decent crowd on the road. We're hoping the home crowd really brings it and supports us. In football, fans are everything."
The Traverse City fans will no doubt have something to cheer about. The Wolves are off to a 2-0 start after a 40-17 win at Capital City and a 47-20 victory over the Michigan Vikings last week.
"We're winning and putting up a lot of points, but our potential is so much higher than what we've done so far," Brown said. "We're working out some kinks. Once we start clicking, we'll be tough to beat."
Brown has been a big part of it. The 2009 NAFL All-Star linebacker already has 18 tackles after finishing seventh in the league a year ago.
London also comes in with a with a pair of lopsided wins.
"They've got a good program," Haney said. "The thing about semi-pro football is teams are different year to year. But they're on a winning streak and playing dominant football. We expect a good, hard-fought game that will test us again."
The Wolves played their inaugural regular season in 2009 at TC Central High School. After making the NAFL post-season, they hosted the Silverbacks in a playoff game at Thirlby Field and won 20-6.
Now permanently locacated at Thirlby, this year's meeting with London will have a different feel, as Saturday's game will be the first contest on the freshly-installed AstroTurf.
"It'll be a lot of fun," he said. "It makes the game so much faster. I always enjoy playing on turf because you move so much easier. There are no variations, no crown and no grass to slow you down."
That bodes well for the Wolves.
"Our offense is based on speed," Haney said. "We should benefit more than it hurts us. I grew up (in Grand Rapids) playing on turf, so this feels like home for me. The guys from Traverse City are excited to get out there and see the changes."
The players that don't hail from northern Michigan are also excited to get their first experience at Thirlby Field.
"From what I've seen and heard from the down-state guys, I think the reason they made the decision to come play here was getting to play on the nice field and stadium we have," Brown said. "It will be nice to have the guys come in and show them what Traverse City football is all about."
It won't just be the players excited about being at Thirlby Field for the first time.
"Everyone's been talking about the opener at Thirlby," Haney said. "They guys are so excited. I'm so excited it gives me goose bumps knowing we're going to be out there under the lights."