It's seconds before halftime. The clock runs out and the football players charge off the field. Waiting in their place, Marcel Lewis, head drum major for the Bethune-Cookman Marching Wildcats, stands on the sidelines ready to enter the field as butterflies erupt in his stomach.
"It seems like no matter how long you've been doing this, you always seem to get butterflies. Most times it's actually from being anxious to get on the field," he said. "Performing at halftime is always exciting; all eyes are on you at the time."
The signal is given and the Wildcats enter the field as energy radiates through each of its 325 members. The band gets in formation as the drum majors step forward, ready to explode into performance.
The drums begin to sound and the majors tumble forward, busting moves perfectly in sync with the beat of the percussion. They bend backward, get low and lift their knees in perfect unison.
"Once we begin, I tune everything out and it's as if I'm the only one out there," explained Javaris Gooding-Butts, another drum major on the line.
The band begins a song and the crowd goes wild. A sense of pride is seen in the faces of the band members as they perform — which may be part of the reason they're known as the P.R.I.D.E. of Bethune Cookman.
"We practice so much, and it's refreshing when we get to display the work we've put in," said Lewis, a senior music education major at the school. "I love to see people react to the band in a positive way."
Alongside the band, the 14 Karat Gold Dancers strut on to the field, complementing each crescendo with a soulful move.
"We practice so hard and for so long, and we only have that one chance to get it right," said B-CU dancer Drianca Baxter, a senior elementary education major.
But in the end, the band, despite its numbers, works as one. Each member steps in perfect rhythm, keeping the flow of the show perfectly intact and delicately maneuvered. The band members feel the music, and the crowd sits on the edge of its seat during a time where most would visit the concession stand or chat about the first half.
"In life, we are always taught what to see and perceive, but not how to really feel. The more we understand ourselves and how to feel, the more we will understand music," said Wildcats trumpet section leader Shajuanda Webb.
This Saturday, the Marching Wildcats will take the field at Bright House Network Stadium, where they hope to capture the attention of the thousands expected to be in attendance. Although the band keeps the details of its performance under wraps until showtime, members assure that the audience will hear a little bit of everything.
But they won't be alone.
Following Bethune-Cookman's performance, UCF's very own Marching Knights will share the spotlight of the halftime field show. Although different in style and technique, the bands share common threads: nerves, dedication and energy.
For Max Glorit, head drum major for the Marching Knights, taking the field is what he describes as an "out-of-body experience."
"There are still those butterflies in my stomach as I put on my cape and get ready to charge the field," said Glorit, a senior hospitality major.
The rest of the 306-member UCF band shares Glorit's passion. Nicole Nowotny, a sophomore psychology major, is an assistant drum major for the Marching Knights, and uses her four years of band experience from high school as motivation to provide the UCF band with energy and passion.
"There's something amazing about a group of 300 people gathering together to sweat and work hard because they love music as much as you do," she said.
Nowotny said there is no time to let nerves kick in, especially once the countdown begins for show time. The UCF Marching Knights practice three days per week for about 2 ½ hours. The drumline and Starlet Knights practice an additional two hours on top of that.
On Saturday, the Marching Knights will perform their show, featuring a couple of Latin jazz classics that "are very popular in the marching band and drum corps world," said UCF Marching Knights director Ryan Kelly.
"It's very high-energy, [with] exciting and loud tunes that we think will present a really great, exciting halftime show," he said.
The Starlet Knights dance team will also accompany the band as "decoration on the field," explained dancer Britney Lopez, a junior legal studies major.
Nevertheless, the bands agreed there will be a sense of fun competitiveness among both schools.
"I think you'll see two very high-energy shows. There might be a little bit of a contrast in style, but the energy is going to be the same. The excitement of both of those performances is going to be terrific," Kelly said. "Bethune has a terrific band and we're excited that they're going to be here with us this weekend, and we're also excited to have the Marching Knights get out to perform after six weeks of practicing."
And the feeling is mutual for Wildcats band members.
"I am sure we share the same mutual respect," said Andrew Evans, a trumpet player for Bethune-Cookman. "I am actually excited to watch their performance and hear their stand selections."
But as the halftime performances end and the football teams take back the field, the work isn't over. Both bands serve as a musical cheerleaders of sorts for the teams and the fans, igniting school spirit and keeping the energy high in the stadium.
Spreading school spirit through sound isn't easy, band members agree, but without it, gamedays just wouldn't be the same.
"What we view our role on gameday [as] is a start-to-finish operation. We don't just worry about halftime. We don't just worry about pregame. We have just as important of a job in stands as the game is going on to make sure we're supporting the team, performing for tailgaters before the game begins," Kelly said. "It's our job all day on campus, hours before kickoff, to make sure we're setting the tone for a really exciting gameday."
Video: Battle of the Bands. Bethune-Cookman and UCF bands play at UCF first home game. Video by Arnold Godoy Arnold Godoy