LAS CRUCES – The New Mexico State football team has been conducting fall camp practices at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Jerry Kill’s team also had spring practice in the stadium, but the August temperatures in Las Cruces and field turf are not ideal for practice compared to cooler temperatures in the spring.
The Aggies hope to be able to return to the grass practice field behind the stadium within the next two weeks, as years of wear and tear made it an unsafe playing surface.
“To fix something like that takes time and unfortunately it’s not ready yet, so we are on 110 (degree) turf,” Kill said. “It’s part of changing things and I think people are working to do that. I would rather have it done right, instead of not right.”
Kill’s predecessor, Doug Martin, had pointed out the issues on the practice field in previous seasons.
“Everybody was aware of the complaints from before and rightly so,” Kill said. “We are trying to get everything fixed and get through this season and then address it. We are working together to get on it as fast as we can.”
In May, NM State athletics director Mario Moccia enlisted an in house expert to help bring the practice field back to life. Moccia first became aware of Bernd Leinauer, Regents Professor and turfgrass Extension specialist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, while looking to make improvements inside Presley Askew Field.
“I’m also a professor at the university, but my job is to offer my expertise and help anybody and everybody in the state that has a problem, whether it’s a grass field, a golf course, or even a home owner and some people need more help or less help,” Lainauer said.
“(The practice field) was in poor condition and I tried to help as much as possible and bring it back to where athletes can practice safely, and it will also match the fields if and when they travel to play against teams, who play on grass.”
Moccia first enlisted Lainauer’s help in Presley Askew Field. It was during another study before installing field turf at Presley Askew Field, where Lainauer said the temperature on the turf could reach up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
While temperatures inside AMS expose players to hydration related issues, it was still preferable to a practice field that Lainauer called, “unplayable.”
The campus Facilities and Services Department performs maintenance across the university. But as is the case in many departments, lack of staffing, equipment and resources make maintaining a Division I practice field, or a soccer field, nearly impossible.
Lainauer said the practice field was uneven, and since the goalposts are fixed in the same position, years of painting hash marks caused grass to not grow in those areas.
“I made some suggestions of what could be done,” Lainauer said. “Facilities and Services knows what should be done, but they can’t always get it done if they don’t have the equipment, staff or resources.”
The first step was to level the field by fraise mowing the area, which removes the top three or four inches of turfgrass and soil, but leaves enough of the Bermuda grass at the base to regrow.
“It was so uneven that it was a drastic measure,” Lainauer said.
To address the areas where grass stopped growing where the field was painted, new sod was laid down, and the whole field was top dressed, where sand is added to help level the field.
“The yardage lines were always in the same place and were so ingrained, the fieldgrass was not growing,” Lainauer said. “It’s not toxic, but year after year applied in the same spot with levels of paint, nothing will grow anymore.”
Next on the list will be irrigation, fertilization and maintenance once the field is back in use. Lainauer said the practice field is actually too small to be irrigated correctly, and that some areas would be overwatered as the irrigation system is currently constructed.
“If you don’t irrigate properly, nothing grows,” Lainauer said. “We have to still address the irrigation system. It’s very likely outdated and needs to be replaced.
“There is quite a list of maintenance and improvements. Some we can do and there are some that we still can’t do. Athletics is just one part of the campus, so there has to be a good compromise.”
The ultimate goal, Kill said, is to install a second grass practice field before next fall as an indoor or covered practice facility carries a substantial price tag.
Meanwhile, the Aggie Memorial Stadium field turf, installed in 2014, will be replaced following the season with the $1.75 million in capital outlay funds the athletics department received for the project.
“Our people all understand on campus that with college football, as hot as it is here, we would like to have to four practice fields,” Kill said. “If we can get two here eventually, that is a good thing. We just need two that we can work on.
“Right now, we will live with what we have and not make excuses and take what we got and try to win some games.”