AMES - The bus ride to the stadium on game day is enough to show Iowa State coach Dan McCarney that his efforts to drum up fan support have paid off.
"It used to be easy to get to the stadium here. Now it's hard," McCarney said. "We have to orchestrate through the Highway Patrol, DPS, the Ames police, all of them working together to get us to the stadium so we're not half an hour late.
"We sure didn't have that early when I got here."
Winning helps. Iowa State went 9-3 last season and is 5-2 this year heading into Saturday's home game with Kansas State. The fans have responded to that success.
Iowa State's average attendance for three home games is 46,913. If that average is maintained over the final three home games, it would be Iowa State's best since 1984.
Jack Trice Stadium seats 43,000. According to the NCAA, Iowa State ranks third nationally in attendance as a percentage of capacity, ahead of schools such as Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida, Penn State and Michigan.
Iowa State is 39th nationally in average attendance.
Getting to this point took some work. In McCarney's first six seasons, the average attendance topped 40,000 only twice.
"I was told many times when I first got here that it's not going to happen fast," McCarney said. "We looked at a lot of programs around the country that had been down for as long as this one to see how fast people would come back. There weren't any fast comebacks, so we knew it was going to take some time."
McCarney recalls spending hours with fans and boosters to generate support for his program.
"I went to all kinds of lunches, breakfasts, dinners, cocktail hours, you name it, just to get with people," he said. "Big crowds, small crowds.
"I've tried to go out and build as many friendships and relationships as I possibly could since I took the job. I think if the people respect you and trust you and like you, they're more apt to come support your team."
The players enjoy pulling up in the bus and seeing hundreds of fans tailgating and greeting them before the game.
"It's electric," defensive tackle Jordan Carstens said. "It really helps you get ready for the game knowing you're playing for such great fan support."
It's one of the highlights of the day for wide receiver Jack Whitver.
"There's grandparents, there's kids, all calling your name," Whitver said. "That's the best part of game day other than the game."
"I want to see this thing full each time we come here," he said. "Then I think when it's really hard to get a ticket, those are things you can start making plans for. It's not at the top of my priority list. An indoor facility has been number one for a long time."