After Morgan Fallin's ceremony, what did Ole Miss do to prepare the football field for the 2023 season? -Oxford Eagle

After Morgan Fallin's ceremony, what did Ole Miss do to prepare the football field for the 2023 season?  -Oxford Eagle

After Morgan Fallin's ceremony, what did Ole Miss do to prepare the football field for the 2023 season?

Published at 3:53pm Friday, December 15, 2023

Written by Cecilia Brown

In a turn of events sparked by Morgan Wallen's concert, the playing field at the University of Mississippi's football stadium switched in May 2023 from the old 419 Bermudagrass to NorthBridge® Bermudagrass. Assistant Athletic Turf Director Brian McNeil explained that proceeds from the concert made it possible to rebuild Foote Hemingway Stadium for the first time in years.

The decision to switch was not hasty. McNeil has been hearing about this new variety called NorthBridge for a few years. “After speaking with a few people at the SEC who said NorthBridge outperforms all others, it was a good opportunity for me to try it out after the concert.”

Despite not spending a full year with NorthBridge, McNeil expressed optimism that it will turn green faster than other bermudagrass varieties. “It grows a little better in cooler temperatures than 419 did,” he added. “It’s still growing as we speak,” he added.

Cultural practices

Over the summer, McNeil worked hard to develop cultural practices on the field to make it perfect in time for the 2023 football season. At first, he didn't realize how aggressive he would be when handling the turf. “You have to move it every 10 to 14 days. He's an aggressive player, he recovers very well, and that's probably the thing I like best,” he said. “It's a tighter grass, he stands up straight and doesn't tend to lie down as much as the 419.”

He's noticed great retention of fall color, but won't see it turn green in the spring as they plan to tear up the field again when Morgan Wallen returns for a concert on the field in 2024. McNeil shared that Precision Turf has NorthBridge Field in reserve for Ole Miss .

“We were so impressed with this on the field that we had to redo the middle of the practice soccer field. We have to do that every fall because we only have one turf soccer field and they are eating it up.

Expanding success

The University of Mississippi is in the process of rebuilding its softball field. Although the team will play in an unfinished stadium for the 2024 season, they will get a new stadium in time for the game in February. “We're going to put the turf on Jan. 1. So, I'm taking it to NorthBridge, too. I got that from Precision Turf, too,” McNeil shared.

Looking to the future, McNeil envisions a campus where all areas pride themselves on this diversity. “In the next two years, we'll be renovating our baseball field. I hope within the next three or four years every one of our fields will become Northbridge.”

Earlier this fall, McNeil said their fields saw temperatures in the 20s, but they rose into the 80s soon after, so Northbridge responded to the fertilizer and continued to grow. They planted the ryegrass earlier this fall in late September, due to their schedule being broken, so the seeds had enough time to germinate between home games. “I'm a little different here than other schools because I don't use tarps for planting. I know probably 75 percent of the SEC has grown tarps. I've never touched that part of it,” he said.

Turf management

McNeil graduated from Mississippi State University in 2007 and worked there for about a year as assistant athletic turf director. After nine months as an assistant, McNeil went to work at the University of Southern Mississippi for six years before taking his current position at the University of Mississippi.

McNeil has been at Ole Miss for nine years. His first fall there was when they switched from artificial turf to a natural playing surface. “Being the turf guy, obviously I wanted that, but let's be honest. In the grand scheme of things and the business we're in these days, the head coach decides what he wants. Fortunately, Coach (Hugh) Freeze was here at the time, and because he wanted the turf, We went to the grass, and it's been going well ever since.

McNeil also highlighted the camaraderie among SEC sports stadium managers, emphasizing their collective understanding of the challenges and efforts involved in maintaining high-quality fields. He emphasized the unseen variables that influence field appearances during televised events, fostering a greater appreciation for the complexities of turf management. “A lot of people don't know what's going on with this, but we all do. We're all about helping each other.”

McNeil said the coaches are happy with NorthBridge and interested in converting their outdoor synthetic fields to turf. “It's been great so far, and we've definitely seen a difference in playability.”

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