The turf has hosted some of the best games from the 2018 season, including the NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams.
It’s entertained high scoring games, controversial plays and heartbreaking losses. On Friday, it will serve a new purpose as the home turf of the Pike Road Patriots as it makes its debut in the Pike Road-Dadeville game.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Pike Road coach Patrick Browning said. “This is the highest quality turf I’ve ever been on. This turf is made to withstand 350-pound men falling on it, so the quality is unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen because it’s an NFL field. Our colors are naturally eye-catching, so to couple an NFL field with our colors is pretty incredible.”
The 100,000-square foot field is a novelty in Alabama. Many artificial turf surfaces, like those at Cramton Bowl, Stanley-Jensen Stadium or Bulldog Stadium in Opelika, were originally natural grass fields that were modified with an artificial surface. Pike Road’s field was built from scratch, incorporating plenty of sideline space between the bleachers and the field, allowing for practice space during the week or hospitality areas adjacent to the spacious end zone.
“I’ve never seen anything like it at the high school level,” Browning said. “We’ve even got the six-foot NFL border that’s required on all NFL fields because it’s part of the package that came with the Saints’ field. One thing they did do a good job of the NFL requires a yellow media line and they took it out for us so it doesn’t clash with our colors. We’ve even got gray soccer lines built into the turf and our four colors are red, white, navy and gray, so you’ve got all four of our colors integrated into the field. It’s going to be beautiful.”
When Pike Road launched the first phase of its $3 million project for athletic fields, school administrators researched the top artificial surface installers, finally settling on Act Global from Austin, Texas. That’s where they came up with the idea of getting the turf from the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
“We were doing research on different options and getting pricing,” Browning said. “One of the vendors that we were getting information from posed it to us as a possible option and it kind of went from there.”
The Mercedes Benz Superdome installs new turf every year. The turf used in the 2017 season was sold to the Jefferson West School District in Kansas. The turf used in the 2018 season had two Saints’ preseason games played on it, along with eight regular-season games, the divisional playoff game with the Eagles, the conference championship game with the Rams, the New Orleans Bowl game between Middle Tennessee and Appalachian State and the Sugar Bowl matchup between Texas and Georgia.
“This Superdome turf was always inside and was only used for a small amount of games,” Browning said. “The way turf breaks down is not actually from the wear and tear of being on it, it’s from the UV rays from the sun. We’ve got an eight-year warranty, which is what you would have on a brand-new turf installation. We’re essentially getting a brand-new turf.
“From a money standpoint, the reason we’re getting a turf field is because of the savings it was going to cost us on an annual basis and long term versus what a natural grass field would have cost us, especially up front. We’re getting a nice artificial turf field but we’re actually saving money in the short and long term.”
After the turf was stitched together and nailed to the surface, it was painted to the design of its new owners. Browning had done his research, looking at other artificial surfaces in the state to borrow any ideas that would enhance the look of the playing field.
“We looked at several different fields,” Browning said. “Thompson, the way they did their color scheme with their layouts in the end zone, we thought that was really eye-catching. We flipped some colors around, but the way they did their outlines and letters, we thought that looked really good. And Auburn High, they actually did the same six-foot border around the field and their coaching boxes, they put a white outline around the box to tie in to the border. What we’re trying to do is not make one color too dominant.”
Workers were on the field this week, finishing up the lettering in the end zone and putting a top dressing of sand and rubber pellets into the surface to prepare it for Friday’s debut. Pike Road (7-0) can wrap up a playoff berth with a win over Dadeville (1-6) on Friday but the excitement leading up to Friday’s first game could be a bit of a distraction.
“It’s definitely more than (a game) from the outside looking in,” Browning said. “From the community aspect, this has been a long time coming, playing the first ‘Friday Night Lights’ game in Pike Road. But from a preparation standpoint, we treat it like another game. We make sure the kids practice hard all week, make sure they practice the correct way all week. For us, that’s what it’s all about.
“Then after the game, when it’s over, then it’s time to take everything in and enjoy the moment.”
While there are other additions to make to the stadium – such as a press box and other amenities that include concessions and rest rooms – Pike Road has taken the first step toward a first-class facility with its new playing surface.
“I would rank our field as one of the best in the state,” Browning said. “Our stadium is going to be a really nice stadium but, clearly, there are schools that have put a lot more money into the surroundings. We’re going to have capacity to grow into it. We’re 3A right now but based on our numbers we’re projected to be a 4A (in 2020-21) and we have an outside chance to be a really small 5A. The way our growth is occurring in Pike Road, we’re 3A now, hopefully 4A next year, probably 5A after that and down the line we’ll be a 6A.
“The town of Pike Road, our school board, (superintendent) Dr. (Chuck) Ledbetter and our mayor do a tremendous job of seeing into the future and anticipating growth. Just as they’ve provided us an amazing stadium to play in on Friday night, this stadium will continue to grow and have upgrades and we’ll grow into the classifications as we continue to grow throughout the years.”