BRADENTON — A new $4.5 million athletic facility is gracing Saint Stephen's campus, one replete with baseball and softball fields, a concession stand, dozens of palm trees, a fieldhouse -- and, of course, a football field lined with FieldTurf and equipped with lights.
Jeremy Jackman catches a glimpse of it every day at school before he and the rest of the Falcons football team report for practice at Turner Fields at Moore Athletic Complex, like they have been doing for the past month.
Yet Jackman, a senior, still can't get over what he sees.
"To be honest, every time I walk out here," he said, "I'm still speechless."
Saint Stephen's personnel is banking on a similar reaction from the public at 7 p.m. Friday when the Falcons take the field against Out-of-Door Academy. It will be the first event at the stadium and the first night game ever played on the Saint Stephen's campus.
Quite an improvement over those 4 p.m. kickoffs, right?
"When I first stepped on the field, myself and my teammates were just amazed," said senior Henry Bernet, who shares captain duties with Jackman, Luc Goeders and Bradley Beazant. "It was a spectacle beyond belief. And it's an incredible facility.
"We've got a great group of guys out here," Bernet added. "We couldn't ask for more from the coaches. They're the ones leading us through this. And it's just like a new era for Saint Stephen's football."
When football returned to Saint Stephen's for the 2006 season, practices were conducted on the soccer field and homes games were played Friday afternoons on the baseball field.
The team moved its practices and some games a few miles west to Palma Sola Park during spring 2011. The Falcons were then able to play home games under the lights, and the school displayed its logo on some buildings lining the field, helping the team fell some semblance of ownership while playing its games on a county field.
But that wasn't home.
The new facility, which also includes an eight-lane track and bleachers seating more than 800 fans, is home.
"It's a little bit surreal to know that it's all ready to go," said coach Tod Creneti. "It makes you look back at all the things that have happened up to this point and just be thankful for the opportunity."
The stadium was to open for homecoming Oct. 4, which also served as the Falcons' last home game prior to Friday, before inclement weather in September pushed construction back a bit.
Friday's date is fitting, however, especially since it's Saint Stephen's Senior Night and the rival Thunder is the lone local team on the Falcons' schedule this fall.
"There's so much that goes along with it, and it so happened that's how the schedule turned out. It wasn't intentional -- 'ODA, let's open it up with them,'" said athletic director Carlos Boothby. "But I think it's good, and I think ODA will have a good time playing here, so we'll see."
They also will have the Headmaster's Cup awarded annually to the winner of the ODA-Saint Stephen's game.
For seniors such as Bernet and Jackman, Friday marks their first and last football game played at Turner Fields at Moore Athletic Complex, which will also house the school's girls and boys soccer teams and boys lacrosse team.
But with the Falcons riding a two-game winning streak and set to open their sparkling new facility, the players sound ready to embrace the opportunity.
"We've been talking about this day for a long time. It's really unbelievable," Jackman said. "It doesn't get better than this. Friday's our senior night, first game in the new facility and against our rival, ODA.
"It doesn't get any better than that."