Game days are cherished traditions at The Swamp, and preparations to maintain UF’s reputation as the greatest on the field are not taken lightly. The players are expected to play their best, but others are in charge of ensuring they have the means to do so.
The field maintenance crew is vital to the Gators’ game day presentation as it is the first thing a fan encounters. About 86,000 fans were greeted Sept. 4 with the vibrant colors of orange and blue, exuding the Gator pride.
In the week leading up to a game, the field maintenance staff works about 80 hours to set the stage, Jason Smith, UF’s director of sports turf, said. Before the season opener, the maintenance staff works substantially more: about 100 hours in the week.
Each day of the week leading up to a game is spent on distinct tasks. On Monday, field measurements are made. Tuesday, the staff lays out stencils and strings to sketch the logos. Wednesday is the first day paint hits the field starting with a white base coat. Thursday and Friday are the big paint days where all finishing touches are made.
“I’ll get up here really early mowing, spraying some liquid nutrients like iron that greens the grass up,” Smith said.
The maintenance team usually paints on both the Thursday and Friday before a home game from 6 a.m. to noon so the paint has adequate time to dry before sunset, Smith said.
On the weeks the Gators are on the road, Smith and his staff spend time sweeping and levelling the field, as well as using rakes to perk the grass back up. Repairing the field is more of a priority than painting it, he said.
To get a jumpstart on the next week, the field staff stays an additional three to four hours after players and fans leave the game, Smith said.
“The faster we can get it back in shape, the more time we have for it to heal and recover,” he said.
At the end of the day, Smith said the most rewarding part of the job is to step back and see the finished product.
It is crucial that the players’ stage is always ready for the spotlight, but a performance is never complete without the proper costume.
Similar to Smith’s pre-game week, Jeff McGrew, the director of football equipment, also spends a considerable amount of time on preparations for the coveted show — game day.
McGrew and his staff put out all the game apparel for the players such as shoulder pads, helmets, cleats and game gloves. Additionally, they also lay out the game day apparel for all of the football coaches and staff.
“We usually have our staff in four to five hours before kickoff,” McGrew said. “That’s when the bulk of the rest of our student managers come in and we start doing our final game day preps.”
Game day consists of a variety of tasks, like tidying up the lockers, setting the sidelines up with equipment trunks and putting out benches and chairs, he said.
“Usually that takes about a two-hour ordeal, and about that time is when the team shows up, and then it’s pretty much game mode from there,” McGrew said.
After the game, McGrew and his staff complete tasks such as collecting all the uniforms and pants from the players and game clothes from the staff, he said.
“We have a laundry guy that comes in; he starts washing all that stuff to get it ready and flipped around for next week,” McGrew said.
Overall, the most challenging part of his job is keeping up with everyone in the program, McGrew said. Within the football program there are about 120 players, about 50 to 60 full time staff, plus all the student managers and trainers, he said.
McGrew is in charge of maintaining lists that document each individual’s personal preferences within the entire football program. Every shirt, pant, cleat, jersey size and much more are noted and organized for every person.
“We keep a lot of files… keeping up with all the different size changes, and everybody’s personal preferences, and trying to get as much of that as accurate as possible,” McGrew said.
To help manage the workload, he has different departments in charge of specific equipment details.
“One of my assistants, he is in charge of helmets … and basically that’s one of his main goals as far as helmet fitting — keeping the helmets up to date, checking them for repairs and getting them game ready,” McGrew said.
At the end each week, the field maintenance and equipment management staff spend countless hours ensuring that every uniform and blade of grass is as much of a top performer as the athletes are.
Contact Elena Barrera at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.
Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.