BROOKINGS, S.D. — When Leon Costello first accepted the Montana State director of athletics post more than two years ago, he spoke to MTN Sports about the emotions of leaving South Dakota State University. The deputy director of athletics with the Jackrabbits, Costello brought many of his visions from SDSU to Bozeman, helping MSU unveil its 20-year master facilities plan last fall.
Costello returned to the campus of South Dakota State on Saturday, hours before the Jackrabbits were to kick off against Montana State. The MSU director of athletics was joined by numerous Bobcat fans and boosters on a private tour of SDSU’s athletic facilities.
“It’s great being back, first and foremost. We drove into town, went by the old house and that brought back a lot of old memories,” Costello said Saturday afternoon. “Seeing (the athletic facilities) done and completed and getting set up for game day is truly special, knowing that from the ground floor, being a part of some of these things, it’s emotional a little bit. But as I told people as we were touring today, ‘It’s emotional, but it would be even more emotional to come out of here with a victory.’
“I can’t thank the people here at SDSU enough for taking the time to give us a tour, for allowing our people to kind of see what has been done and how they did it. It allows us to grow and to build and to dream and have a vision for what we want to do. It’s hopefully going to be a good rivalry between us because of the similarities and the relationships that we have, but being back has been great. Hopefully by the end of the night it’s even better.”
Saturday afternoon’s tour was delivered by SDSU director of athletics Justin Sell and Dana Dykhouse, a former player who helped create the vision for the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center as well as Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. It was especially beneficial in Costello’s eyes, giving the MSU contingent a first-hand look at what it takes to overhaul an athletics facility, with the stadium a $65 million project that was completed two years ago and the indoor Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex a $32 million addition finished in the fall of 2014.
“I think it’s, for me, they’ve been hearing us talk about it, so for them to see it and understand what we’re talking about, I think that has the biggest impact,” said Costello, who was at SDSU when many of the renovations were under way. “When we talk about certain things and now they’re able to see it and actually hear it from someone who went through the same or similar process, I think that’s beneficial for everybody. That was one of the main reasons for getting people here, to understand that they went through some of the same processes we did with a facility master plan and doing all that groundwork first, then understanding and getting people onboard with the same vision we have to give to that, these things are possible.”
“I think we start with what affects us the most and what’s going to have the greatest impact, and it’s all about our student-athletes,” Costello continued. “Affecting our student-athletes with Phase 1, it’s all of our student-athletes, all of our programs and all of our coaches that get to be positively affected. That’s why we’re doing it. That’s why they started with some of the things they started with here. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, is our student-athletes, really affecting their lives, helping them develop, not only as athletes but as people in their academics to hopefully get them graduated and they can go on to be professionals in whatever they choose.”
Costello, MSU president Dr. Waded Cruzado, fans and boosters on-hand left the tour excited about the possibilities for their own facilities in Bozeman, but the attention quickly turned to Saturday night’s kickoff, where Montana State hoped to avenge a loss to the Jackrabbits in Bozeman last season.
“There’s been a lot (of banter),” Costello said. “After we beat Western Illinois I was receiving emails all the way up to this point, people wanting me to stop by their tailgates and wanting to see if I can bet them, which I can’t do that. We have NCAA rules that we can’t do that, but it’s been so much fun to see some old friends and really keep those relationships going. This level, FCS football and FCS-sized schools we work at, they’re truly valued relationships, and I feel very strong about the relationships I had here. I feel very strong about the relationships we’re developing in Bozeman and throughout the state of Montana, but this level is very, very special and we can do some amazing things.”