March 2, 2011
By Rob Wilson
"Come on down" used to be Bob Barker's signature line on The Price Is Right, but for FSU football coaches for at least the last 40 years that same line applied to Seminole football practices.
But not for long.
The Seminoles' Al Dunlap practices fields are being completely renovated beginning next week, including the removal of some of the fields' rather quirky elements.
Anyone who has snuck onto the football practice fields to try their luck at a field goal or maybe climb Bobby Bowden's tower knows that the current field configuration contains three practice field running side by side and north to south (sort of). One of the "quirks" with the practice fields has been that each field was at a different level descending down from the field closest to Stadium Drive (Field 3) to the lowest field by Dick Howser Stadium (Field 1). So if you ran from the top field to the bottom you had two small hills to negotiate.
Beginning March 7 and stretching over a six-week period, 3,000 dump truck runs will haul off the old soil from the Al Dunlap practice fields and replace it with a new sand based drainage system and top soil. Actually, most of what will be hauled off will be thick Georgia clay and that has been a large part of the problem. Once the work reaches the actual playing surface, the same natural Bermuda grass will be planted once again.
FSU has plans for an indoor football practice facility that will give the team much needed cover from the nearly automatic August lightning warnings as well as providing a place to actually practice during threatening weather. While complete funding for the nearly $15 million structure has not been raised, a 40-year issue with the practice fields will be rectified along with setting up all the infrastructure for the planned practice building.
Florida State will start a nearly continuous run of dump trucks through a newly created hole in the fencing just west of the Sod Cemetery that will remove all that old clay and non- essential foliage. Nearly 12 feet of earth will come off the top field in the master plan to rebuild all three fields at the same level. At the same time, conduits for all the necessary electrical, sewage and other needs for the potential new indoor facility will be buried. A much more sophisticated irrigation system will be put in and modern drainage engineering will be employed to allow the new practice fields to drain as quickly as the turf inside Doak Campbell.
The fields will be rebuilt in the same configuration as they are today but all three fields will now have lights as opposed to the one lighted field used for Monday night practices for years.
Once the project is complete, Coach Fisher can yell for a player to come OVER from Field 3 to Field 1 instead of literally yelling for a player to come DOWN to Field 1. Receivers and defensive backs will no longer have to worry about running into an oak tree or rolling an ankle on the uneven slopes and night drills can spread out all over the place.
It will be a change for players used to the battered up old fields especially the fact that Coach Bowden's tower will no longer stand in the middle of everything. But fear not, the tower may become even more a part of FSU lore. It is being moved to just outside the centerfield wall of Howser Stadium where it will serve as the camera tower for Seminole baseball games and a piece of history on the Legacy Walk for pedestrians during the day. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that Touching the Tower may quickly become a game day tradition for Seminole fans on their way to football games.
Once an indoor practice facility is green lighted, the structure will change the practice area dramatically. The footprint of the new building will run east-west on the northeast corner of the practice complex parallel to the soccer/softball facility. Fields 1 and 2 would remain outdoor and in the same orientation, but slide south toward Doak Campbell Stadium a bit to make room for the new building. The old Field 3 (nearest Stadium Dr.) would become the staging area for the construction work on the new facility and eventually a new parking area to replace spots displaced by the move of the other fields in the Moore Center parking lot.
So, the Seminoles will begin preseason workouts in August on plush new practice fields that should be significantly better in rain or shine. But fans should rest assured that Rick Trickett will likely make it his personal goal to see how fast he can wear a bare spot in front of the blocking sleds - some things never change.