How Steelers do Friday Night Lights

Steelers' night practice becoming national event (0:40)

ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler says fans from 34 different states will be attending tonight's practice. (0:40)

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Latrobe High School athletic department took 156 phone calls Wednesday. One came from Miami, another from San Antonio, a few dozen from the Midwest. Every caller is making the trek to Latrobe Memorial Stadium to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers practice. They are looking for details.

From the steel bleachers to the fresh-cut Kentucky blue grass, the Steelers' version of Friday Night Lights is a dose of down-home nostalgia.

ESPN's SportsCenter 'On the Road' will televise the practice, which begins at 7 p.m. Friday in Latrobe Memorial. The cameras can find quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signing autographs for at least 15 minutes. Or maybe they'll find wide receiver Antonio Brown dazzling the crowd by throwing 50-yard passes left handed and making one-handed snags.

They will also see a community that savors the emotional lift.

"The biggest thing is the financial influx," said Mark Mears, athletic director of the Greater Latrobe School District. "We're expecting 34 different states represented. We have die-hard Steelers ready to pack this place. Black and gold everywhere. It's a neat economic boom for this town with all the hotels, eateries and ice cream shops."

Latrobe Memorial held around 8,000 fans for last year's practice and expects to eclipse 10,000 this year. The Steelers have been coming here for 30-plus years. The franchise used to rotate local venues but realized keeping the players centralized made sense. The stadium is a few miles from St. Vincent College, where the Steelers hold training camp. Plus, the team prefers fresh grass as opposed to artificial turf.

Latrobe is so pumped for the Steelers' arrival that they recently laid New-Jersey-born sod that's never been used. The Steelers will break it in.

"I'm always excited about Friday Night Lights," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I like the venue. I like the interaction with the fans. It's always a high-energy atmosphere that our guys enjoy."

Maybe Tomlin can stroll over to Valley Dairy Restaurant down the street from the stadium for ice cream. Valley manager Jake Penzera saw more than 200 customers in the afternoon before last year's game, and he's expecting more this year. The restaurant plays light rock music from its speakers.

"Friendly is our biggest selling point around here," Penzera said. "It's a very small-town feel here ... We're looking to sell a lot of ice cream."

The proceeds from concession and entrance fees go to kids' programs at Latrobe. Last year's event raised $25,000. The money is appreciated in what Mears calls a "blue-collar, middle-class working family" town, complete with a steel mill and at least one brewery.

The night caps with a fireworks display.

Players joke that training camp feels like a kid's summer camp with 90 of your best friends. They play in the day and hang in the dorms at night.

Practicing in a high school stadium accentuates that experience.

"It kind of takes you back to high school when I first got started," center Cody Wallace said.