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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Workers on Thursday make the final touches on the cutting-edge, state-of-the-art FieldTurf surface being laid at Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Rice-Eccles Stadium is getting an upgrade — and a significant one at that. Crews are busy installing new FieldTurf, which will give the Utah football program a state-of-the-art playing surface.

Decked vibrantly in school colors, which are inlaid into the turf instead of painted, the field features red end zones and a block "U" at midfield. All numbers and lettering are trimmed with white or black. "Utah" is written in both end zones and two Mountain West Conference logos are also on the field.

Mark Burk, director of stadium and arena event services for the university, said the turf replacement was necessary after sharing the field for four years with Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer.

"We had some paint removal lines on it and we were ready for a new generation," said Burk, who added that the upgrade was also in appreciation of the football program doing so well in recent years.

The Utes were the nation's only undefeated team last season and finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press rankings.

"I think it goes hand-in-hand. It's exciting to see the progress of our team and also to make sure Rice-Eccles Stadium stays top-notch," said Utah athletics director Chris Hill. "I think this helps do that."

The $770,000 turf replacement project began on May 18 and is expected to be completed by the end of June.

"It's without question a great addition to the stadium," said Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that the old field had run its course and is being replaced by a cutting-edge surface.

FieldTurf officials have told both Burk and athletic department events coordinator Steve Pyne that the project is "one of the very best" installations in company history. The attention to detail, Burk said, will remind stadium patrons that they are truly "Entering the Red Zone" when the Utes play.

"We decided to go with it and really make a statement," he said.

Utah, which has used FieldTurf since 2002, is one of 50 college programs to play on the synthetic surface. A majority of NFL teams also use the product on their practice or stadium fields.

The Utes' new turf is expected to last 15 years, and the colors are designed not to fade. Hill said a good portion of the funds needed to replace the field came from proceeds generated through hosting RSL soccer games.

It's one of three facility upgrades that will benefit the football program. The Alex Smith Strength and Conditioning Facility expansion project is under way, and a football Hall of Fame room inside the Spence Eccles Field House is nearing completion.

"These facilities are all necessary and these changes are important to continue to move our football program forward," said Hill, who expressed gratitude for donations that made the upgrades possible.

"We think the strength room is going to be one of the greatest in the country. We think it's going to match where we want to go and where we are," he explained. "I think it's all part of running a top-notch program and we're appreciative that we are able to do that."

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Whittingham acknowledged it will assist in the program's recruiting process.

"It all helps. The 'Wow' factor in recruiting is certainly part of the equation. Facilities are important," Whittingham said. "We feel like we're doing everything we can do to keep pace in that regard."

It's part of a big picture, he added, that puts the student-athlete first.

"There's a lot of good things going on right now — a lot of excitement about the program," Whittingham said. "It's good to see these changes and what's occurred. It's all positive."

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com