ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fans May See a Little More Speed With University Stadium’s Synthetic Playing Surface
Bob Davie’s task is to rebuild the Lobos football program from the ground up.
His bosses took it one step further this offseason, actually rebuilding that ground the Lobos will be playing on.
The natural grass field inside University Stadium is no more. It was replaced instead by a synthetic playing surface produced by the company FieldTurf that will make the field more versatile for use outside of football season and cut down on labor and maintenance costs during the season.
And just maybe fans will see a little more speed on the field.
“I’ve seen plenty of these artificial surfaces, and this one is the tightest, fastest one I’ve ever seen,” Davie said. “I sort of wish I had a few more years of eligibility myself.”
The Lobos unveiled the new field last week at a brief practice open to university staff and students. It was one of the few times the team will actually see the new turf other than game days.
As much as Davie likes the new field, he’s of the opinion games are won and lost during preparation on the practice field.
“I don’t want these kids to take anything for granted,” Davie said. “When we walk into that stadium on Saturdays, it needs to be a different mindset.”
The field looks like a healthy patch of green grass with a large Lobos logo in midfield and bright Cherry end zones with “New Mexico” printed in white lettering in both end zones.
With the recent announcement of a $1.5 million donation from Albuquerque lawyers, and avid Lobos athletics supporters, Turner and Margaret Branch, the field will soon have an addition at the 25-yard-lines — a logo reading “Branch Field” with “Turner & Margaret” below in smaller letters.
Albuquerque firm Westwind Landscape Construction, Inc., won the contract for the installation of the turf. Tim Cass, UNM’s senior associate athletic director in charge of facilities said the cost of the football field project was “about $900,000,” but a more specific figure was not available because some of the costs are also tied in with other turf projects, including placing FieldTurf for the baseball stadium and the recent natural-grass resodding for the soccer team.
In any case, Cass said the university is anticipating saving $75,000 per year in maintenance and labor costs for upkeep of the new turf and also to be able to utilize the field much more than UNM currently does. He also said the natural grass field was in need of re-sodding, a project that would have cost an estimated $250,000.
“It was about finding a product the team liked and could work with, but it was also about usability,” Cass said. “We were limited with grass with what we could do with it.”
In addition to the Lobos home football games, Cass said the school hopes to form a partnership with the New Mexico Activities Association to play a high school football game or two each fall in the stadium as well as hosting events throughout the offseason.
New Mexico Activities Association Assistant Director Dusty Young said UNM has expressed interest in hosting a neutral-site high school football game to bring in teams from around the state, similar to the season tipoff basketball showcase games played in the last two seasons in the Pit. For now, though, the NMAA is without an executive director, and Young said a decision from the NMAA would wait until the next one is named.
“It was beyond just a UNM football decision,” Cass said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Can we utilize this asset, which is really a great asset not only to the university but for the whole state?’ And we know we can use this asset now a lot more than seven or eight times each fall. And we think it looks pretty good out there, too.”
Regardless of the look, the Lobos players say they’re excited about the consistency the field will give them. Whereas grass turf tears up through the season and can rip under the weight of a 300 pound lineman wearing 3/4-inch cleats, the new turf should give players the same feel in August as it does in December.
That’s not to say artificial turf is considered a completely safe alternative to natural grass. It still has critics, but it is safe to say the technology has advanced FieldTurf far beyond the carpet-like turf fields of yesteryear that left players with seemingly endless leg injuries.
Davie and Cass both say they wouldn’t have gone with the new turf if they weren’t entirely convinced it was safe for the players.
The University of Maryland this offseason also made the shift to FieldTurf. Former NFL quarterback and FieldTurf representative Neil O’Donnell told the Washington Post earlier this month that the field in Maryland’s Byrd Stadium will help reduce the risk of head trauma.
“You look at everything in the NFL now, and it is all about concussions,” O’Donnell said in the Washington Post, referring to the 21 NFL teams that utilize FieldTurf for either their playing or practice fields. “We come in once a year, and we test these fields from all different areas.”
The first real test of the new turf comes Saturday when the Lobos host Southern in the kickoff of the Davie era.
And for fans going to the game, one thing is certain: Regardless of what the Lobos product on the field has looked like in recent years, the University Stadium field itself shouldn’t be all that bad to look at this fall.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal