ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WNCN) – Less than 24 hours before kickoff the stands at the Rocky Mount Athletic Stadium were empty.

However, that changes Saturday. 

Preparation was underway Friday evening and so was the excitement nearby.

“It is like a mini homecoming. It is so exciting.” Elizabeth City State University sophomore Breana Poyner said. “(It’s) the first home game of the year. It is just extremely exciting to see everybody.”

Friday evening, ECSU students, alumni and fans gathered for fan fest.  

“It really just boosts everyone’s spirits and really helps us as we think about what we attribute to this economy in Rocky Mount, and also as Vikings. How we support each other,” said ECSU’s chancellor, Dr. Karrie G. Dixon.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Down East Viking Football Classic in Rocky Mount. City leaders couldn’t be happier, especially with the potential economic boost.

“Elizabeth City State and this classic, they bring over 10,000 fans to Rocky Mount. The economic impact of that is just tremendous,” Mayor Sandy Roberson said. “I really haven’t looked at those numbers, but it has got to be an excess of at least $4-$5 million. In terms of hotels and the golf tournament that they raise money in, and all of the other local things they buy.”

Roberson said the event is also a way for ECSU to continue to pick up exposure.

“So, it’s a way for Elizabeth City to recruit high school students. They go out to the schools and they talk to folks,” he said.

Dixon said a big reason the football game continues to call Rocky Mount home is because of the strong alumni support.

“Really, we have a strong alumni base here in Rocky Mount. So, when we were looking at a place, as I was told, back 25 years ago that would bring the most people together and the community, Rocky Mount was the best choice,” she said.

ECSU will play Livingstone College Saturday at the Rocky Mount Athletic Complex. Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m.