NU football field finally gets artificial turf

2 August 2018

For the past several years, Northwood University's chewed-up, gnarly grass football field was a bit of an eyesore by season's end. By contrast, Hantz Stadium's brand new field surface will be a sight for sore eyes.

And a long time coming, too.

The recent installation of artificial turf on Juillerat Field marks the final phase of a long-term capital improvement project spearheaded by former NU football coach and athletics director, the late Pat Riepma.

And current NU Athletics Director Dave Marsh, for one, couldn't be happier to see the final piece to the puzzle finally falling into place.

"It's very exciting that we're getting the turf in. We'd been raising money for quite a while (for this project), and it was a dream of Coach Riepma's that we'd be able to do this," said Marsh. "There's definitely a lot of excitement about it (on campus). The players are really excited, it's going to look great, and it just feels like we're taking our program and facilities to the next level."

Timberwolves' football coach Leonard Haynes said that getting a turf field will help him and his staff keep up in the always competitive recruiting wars.

"It's pretty exciting. Our players were really excited once they found out (that we were getting turf)," said Haynes. "It will be really good for us going forward. (Northwood) President (Keith) Pretty did a good job of raising the money for it, and he knows how important it is. It really helps (to have updated facilities) in this day and age of recruiting.

"You kind of have to keep up in recruiting, or else you get left behind," Haynes added. "You've got to keep up with the Joneses if you can. But (the artificial surface) will also help us with what we do offensively. Being a triple-option team and a pretty fast team, it will definitely help us (with our players' footing)."

The series of athletics facilities upgrades began with the unveiling of NU's new $1 million weight room in 2010 and continued with the completion of the school's indoor practice facility in 2012. Three years later, the new and improved Bennett Center/Riepma Arena was finished.

In the mean time, numerous other smaller improvements have also been made, such as the addition of permanent stadium-style bleacher seating at the soccer field, as well as new scoreboards for baseball, softball, and soccer.

"We've really been able to make some great progress in improving our facilities," Marsh said.

Marsh noted that NU teams other than football will also be able to use the more durable artificial surface at Hantz Stadium for workouts and practices throughout the year.

"It makes the stadium much more versatile, and it will just be a whole new look on Saturdays in the fall," he noted.

Fisher Contracting of Midland handled the excavation and preparation of the field surface as well as the installation of proper drainage, while the AstroTurf corporation installed the turf, all at a cost of approximately $750,000, Marsh said. All of that money was generated by fundraising, as was the case with NU's prior facilities upgrades.

Northwood is the last school in the GLIAC to make the switch from grass to artificial turf.

According to Marsh, the field will have an inch of padding underneath the playing surface to help cushion athletes on impact.

"We really liked how CMU did their (artificial turf), and we're hoping ours will be similar to that," Marsh said. " ... With the safety of student-athletes in mind, we put the padding in so that it will protect (players) from concussion and will protect their joints, and when they land hard, it will have some give."

Ironically, Haynes admitted that, as poor as the footing was on NU's former playing surface, the grass field wasn't without merit.

"In a way, that grass field was a huge advantage for us. It was a psychological advantage for us against any team that came in here (because they weren't used to playing on grass)," he noted, while adding of the artificial turf, " ... But it needed to be done. We needed a turf field, because that grass was always so torn up.

"One wrong step, and it could cost you a game or cost you a kid (due to injury)," he added. "(Adding artificial turf is) definitely a good step in the right direction."

Northwood will initiate its new field on Sept. 8 in the Timberwolves' home opener against Missouri S&T.

NU's other home games this fall will be on Sept. 15 against Ferris State, on Sept. 29 against Grand Valley State, on Oct. 13 against Davenport, and on Nov. 3 against Saginaw Valley State.

While there has been talk for years about Hantz Stadium possibly also getting lights for night games, Marsh said that the funding is not yet available for that particular renovation.

"We'd like to do that down the road at some point," he said. "But we had enough (money raised) for the turf, and we felt that now was a great time (to get it installed). The time frame allowed us to do all the work during the summer, and it will be completed during preseason practices and ready for our home opener on Sept. 8."

Asked about the possibility of someday getting lights at Hantz Stadium, Haynes said he doesn't particularly have a preference.

"I know they've talked about (getting lights). If they get lights, great. I think that helps with the atmosphere," he noted. "As a coach, do I like night games? Not really. But if it gets more fans and more members of the student body here and helps the atmosphere, then that's great (for the program)."