With cleats dug deep into the newly laid artificial turf, the Apache football players are confident as they prepare to sprint the distance.
Tightened jaw muscles and eyes focused straight ahead demonstrate the seriousness of the team’s concentration brought on by their appreciation for the improved Pat Hartley practice field at Tyler Junior College.
Staring for a moment on the sidelines deep in thought, Taylor Bergin, a sophomore long snapper for the Apache football team, expressed his gratitude looking up and back down again, while occasionally grazing his foot across the surface of the turf.
“I feel that we are fortunate, much so than almost any football team in our area,” Bergin said.
Junior colleges in East Texas and surrounding areas rarely have the opportunity to practice on the same professional football turf found at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
“The main thing is that we can get a more direct playing experience, the same as what we would use when our big game day comes around. It’s the little things that makes all the difference when playing to win,” Bergin said.
Danny Palmer, head football coach, explained that with the modifications to the field, it creates a more pleasant visual medium but later it was a necessary improvement that was well overdue.
“The new field provides so much to the Apaches, for example, it enables us to not pay money for transportation going to other schools when we had a rained out football practice in the morning,” Palmer said.
Along with the new turf, two NCAA-regulation goalposts were also included.
An anonymous donor made the new practice facility possible and the installation costs were just over $700,000, said Fred Peters, director of Marketing and Public Affairs.
“Donor support was crucial to the decision in regards to the turf field before the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester,” Peters said.
A sign was placed at the corner of East Fifth Street and South Palmer Avenue, which credited the anonymous donor.
“The Apaches and our coaches are thankful for everything we’ve received. We are honored to have been chosen,” Bergin said.
Scanning the players quickly for any sign of an injury, Courtney Jenkins, graduate assistant athletic trainer, reflects upon the poor field conditions before the upgrades.
“For starters, we are on a level playing field, considering players wouldn’t have to encounter sprained ankles or major injuries due to unnecessary holes and a slippery surface. We have some really good players and without the accurate accommodations, they could very well be hurt, and it reflect badly upon the overall team’s shot at winning,” Jenkins said.
As practice continued, Palmer, facing the sidelines near the upper right-hand neon yellow goalpost, shouted “stay focused guys,” lifting each hand upward in a finger pointing position.
He soon after paced across the narrow white and broad green gaps of the turf, conveying play-by-play instructions to the team.
Looking down briefly, every once in a while, after making his way near the center of the field, Palmer explained how efficient the new improvements are compared to before.
“It sure makes practicing easier, especially when you’re not the only teams who regularly use the field. The turf is durable and doesn’t become unsuitable under rough playing conditions,” Palmer said.
Although the new improvements were donated, according to Jenkins there was a rumor circulating about the new practice field for quite some time.
“I just got here this season, but after talking to a large number of people, there were in fact rumors of a new turf field for at least a year. It’s really exciting. The rumors have recently shifted to a new stadium and I do think they are without a doubt entirely true,” Jenkins said.
Sweat-drenched teammates gathered together forming a circle after a Wednesday practice. They listened intently to their coach, helmets in hand, the 90-degree heat waves, vibrating the outward white lines on each corner of the field.
“You must all work hard,” echoed in the distance as Palmer spoke firmly of dedication, excellence and hard work.
“Between the new practice field and Palmer’s good coach ethic, this is the best you can ask for,” Jeffrey Claybon, sophomore and TJC quarterback said while resting comfortably, knees gradually bent, as the black side pole of the Apache complex building supports his back.
These improvements have not only enriched the playing and practicing experience, according to fellow Apaches, but also their enthusiasm toward the game.
“Being a quarterback, one of the leaders of the team, I encourage players to work hard, and to not play around,” Claybon said.
While taking three or four steps forward from the pole, pausing for a moment and then continuing where he had left off, Claybon emphasized the importance of teamwork and perseverance.
“My advice to the team is to never give up and always fight. Because if we do work hard, we can win. No…we will win!” Claybon said, before walking off into a slight noon breeze, his grey exercise shorts slightly waving in the wind.