PROVO — With football season just three months away, the field at BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium is devoid of lines, numbers, logos, hash marks and end zones. Right now, it is simply a pristine, 100-yard sea of verdant, freshly laid grass.
Over the past several months, the field has undergone its first major renovation in nearly three decades. The 28-year-old turf was removed in February and has been replaced in recent weeks with new sod, imported from California. The renovation also involved the installation of a new draining system.
The new grass offers Edwards Stadium — which was built in 1964 and expanded in 1982 — a fresh look.
Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall enjoys the change.
"It makes me smile. I feel good about the addition and how it will continue to make the stadium, and our program, one of the best in the country," he said. "You'd like everything you're associated with as an organization or as a person to be first-class and of quality. "I don't think there's a person who could walk out there, see it and not say, 'Wow, this is very impressive.' If I were a fan, if I were a former player, if I were a recruit coming to look at what we represent and the quality of the program, the stadium continues — at even a higher level now — to be one of those things you can say, 'This is an amazing place.' "
For Mendenhall — whose team has won 18 consecutive home games, dating back to the start of the 2006 season — Edwards Stadium is not only the venue where the Cougars compete, it's also a hallowed shrine dedicated to the legacy established by past players and coaches.
That explains why, during spring practices in March, when the field was rendered unusable due to the renovation, Mendenhall canceled the school's annual spring game.
"Certainly, there are arguments to have held a spring game and certainly there are those who were disappointed we didn't, and certainly it could have been held elsewhere," he said. "But I'll only play the spring game in our stadium."
In recent years, many observers noted the gradual deterioration of the Edwards Stadium turf. Part of the problem was the emergence of annual bluegrass, a weed that "had crept in and compromised the field," said Roy Peterman, BYU director of grounds maintenance.
A change was probably overdue, considering Edwards Stadium had one of the oldest grass fields in college football.
"It wasn't to the point where you couldn't play, nor was it to the point where it was a poor field," Mendenhall said. "It was just some of those signs you start to identify in relation to a really high standard. It wasn't quite the same as it had been at its best."
Mendenhall admits he's no expert in this area, but fortunately for BYU, it has its own resident experts.
One of them, BYU plant and wildlife professor Bryan Hopkins, has worked as a consultant for the Wimbledon tennis championships and the Kansas City Chiefs, among other professional sports organizations. Mendenhall consulted with Hopkins, who coordinated with BYU's grounds maintenance department to design the new field.
One of the noticeable aspects of the renovated field is a less-pronounced crown in the middle. Mendenhall made some recommendations, which included flattening the crown.
"It's really just personal preference. I'm not a huge proponent of the crowned field," Mendenhall said. "I don't think there are distinct advantages or disadvantages either way. My preference was that it be less-crowned. I did suggest that and they agreed with it."
As for the new sod, it is a hybrid of grasses grown for athletic use, and it is known for its ability to withstand changes in the weather.
"The new grass is a five-blend mix of premium, high-bred, sports-turf bluegrasses," said Peterman, who has worked at BYU for 38 years. "Bluegrasses have been used before, but they were older varieties. We are now using state-of-the-art hybrids, which are specifically designed to help the field hold together," he said.
Now that the renovation project is almost complete, Peterman is thrilled with the result. "You won't see a prettier field anywhere in the country," he said.
Replacing the natural grass with an artificial surface was never considered, said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.
Yet another new feature includes surrounding the natural grass field with synthetic turf to mitigate the wear and tear caused by players, coaches, officials, cheerleaders and others involved in game-day operations as they stand on the sidelines. BYU grounds crews have raked coconut husk shavings into the synthetic turf to help give it a feel of natural grass.
Thanks to the new draining system, the field should now be able to hold more than 20 inches of rain per hour without ponding on the surface, according to Peterman.
On top of the draining system, crews placed a layer of gravel, followed by 8 1/2 inches of a specialized sand that is used for sports turf.
"The sod was then put on top of both the gravel and sand layers," Peterman explained.
The Cougars are looking forward to playing on their new field this fall, when they host Florida State — the Seminoles will be making their first appearance in Provo — Colorado State, Utah State, TCU, Air Force and Utah in their home games.
After being shut out of Edwards Stadium during the spring, Mendenhall and his players are more thankful than ever for the place they play home games.
"We make such a huge emphasis every time we go over there to really make sure we are performing at our best," he said. "Not being able to get into the stadium and now the anticipation to get back in there in the fall, it just heightens our appreciation for it."