Penn State Alum Talks Behind the Scenes with the Eagles

September 29, 2014 in 4-year, Alumni, Articles

IMG_7344.0_standard_709.0Most NFL fans don’t think about all of the long hours that go into making a professional football game happen. The truth is, there are hundreds of support staff and thousands of man hours that go into prepping and working a game each week. Out of everything that needs work, though, the field itself is by far the most important. That’s why the Philadelphia Eagles┬áneed the best grounds crew possible in order to make sure the team is able to perform at one hundred percent every Sunday.

Leading that crew is Director of Grounds Tony Leonard. Tony, a long-time member of the Sports Turf Managers Association, has been with the Eagles for the past fourteen years, after graduating from Penn State with a degree in Turf Grass Science.

“Most of [my class] became golf course superintendents,” he said, “I took the road less traveled to sports fields. It turned out to be a good choice. You’re part of the NFL and you’re part of football, which growing up, I loved. I think the challenge that it presents is unique, in a way. It’s more year-round now and I think every day and every year, it’s a different set of challenges.”

One of those challenges is keeping the field in top condition as the season progresses, when the warm August and September weather is replaced by the cold and snow. To combat this, the Eagles have implemented a system which no other NFL team has tried before: completely switching the field from Bermuda grass to Kentucky bluegrass in November.

“We try to get the best of both worlds,” said Leonard, “Philadelphia is historically known to have hot, humid summers. Bermuda grass grows very well at that time, but the bluegrass will decline. So, instead of starting the season out with a weak grass, we bring in a strong grass, such as Bermuda grass, to play on. Then in the fall, when the Bermuda grass begins to decline, that’s when we sod the field with the bluegrass.”

“Our number one goal is to keep the players safe. We always put a field in that we know is going to be safe. We work with our sod farms to maintain the field at the farms as if it were here. So, we do the same maintenance practices that we would do here on the field at the sod farms. That way, when the sod does come in, it’s going to be a safe, playable surface.”

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