Setting the stage for Auburn’s athletic events: A Conversation with Eric Kleypas

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On any given weekday morning before a home football game, you can probably find Eric Kleypas in Jordan Hare Stadium. The stadium will be quiet, except for the buzzing of the pressure sprayer Kleypas and his crew are using to paint the field for the gridiron battle each Saturday.

Kleypas, director of athletic turf and grounds, has a big job – he's responsible for making sure Pat Dye Field looks its best before players take the field for gameday. Kleypas graduated from Auburn with an undergraduate degree in turfgrass management and a master's degree in agricultural science. He now uses the knowledge he gained at Auburn to the manage the university's football field, as well as the turf at the baseball, softball, track and field, soccer and golf facilities.

Below is a conversation with Eric where he discusses everything from the process of painting the field to his reaction to fans storming the field after the 2013 Iron Bowl.

During the fall, what does a normal day for you look like?

Fall can be a busy time of the year. On a typical day, we will have employees preparing fields for baseball practice, softball practice, soccer practice and football practice. Depending on the week, we may also have a football game, soccer match and softball games to prepare for. Tasks will include mowing, painting lines, painting logos, infield skin maintenance, edging, pulling tarps, etc. Then we must work around schedules to find gaps for fertilization, overseeding and sand topdressing.

Take me through the process of going from plain grass to a fully painted field.

Game prep begins with painting a fresh coat on the lines. Lines dictate everything that follows. Stencils are used to mark all logos. Painting the logos is much like the exercise of connecting the dots as a child. Painting generally takes three days. At some times, we will have three paint machines moving around the field. We can use up to 250 gallons of orange, blue and white paint for one game. The factors we have to consider when planning out the paint schedule include weather, on-field activities and stadium shading. Shade becomes a huge issue later in the season as the sun lowers in the horizon. The paint in the south end zone must be done by lunch to account for shade from the scoreboard and bleachers. If we wait until later in the day it will result in wet paint the following morning. We plan to finish painting by lunch on Friday to allow mowing before dark. Prep ends on Saturday morning with a final mowing and setting up the sideline tarps.

What was your reaction to the 2013 Iron Bowl as fans stormed the field?

Had it been any other game of the season, a heart attack would have occurred. Because it was the last game and Bama, I celebrated just like the rest of the fans in the stadium. Kick Six is definitely a moment you will never forget.

What is it like knowing that millions of people see your work every week? What kind of pressure does that create?

The pressure is more self-imposed than worrying what viewers might comment. We have high expectations and know what we are capable of. Weather is the one factor that can make or break you. Our challenge is to adapt the fertility, irrigation and paint schedules around the weather forecast.

As an Auburn graduate, what is it like having such an important role in a high-profile venue?

Going to work each day at the school you grew up cheering for is special. I hope my work ethic would be the same at another school. I don't know how realistic that is. You always work harder for something that you love.

What is your favorite memory from one of the many football games you are on the sideline for?

It will be hard to top the last two home games of the 2013 season. The catch to win the Georgia game seemed miraculous. Then, the returned field goal attempt at the Iron Bowl was just…ridiculous.

What is the upkeep process of Pat Dye Field during the off-season?

Immediately after the season we seed worn areas and begin painting logos for recruiting season. In February, we begin prepping the field for spring scrimmages and A-Day. After A-Day, we access the field and see if sod is needed. The transition from ryegrass to Bermuda grass occurs early summer. We spend all summer using various cultural practices to get the field "bullet proof" for the season.

Of Auburn's sports venues, which is the most difficult to maintain and why?

Baseball and softball fields are the most difficult to maintain. This is due to the fact that we are maintaining grass and infield clay on the same field. These fields are also challenging because the game fields are also the practice fields.

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