On the morning of their first practice, Orchard Lake St. Mary's players were greeted by a sign that read "TRACK AND FOOTBALL FIELD CLOSED." But Austin Johnson was cool with that -- literally.
"That turf is beautiful, I love it, but out here is nice, too," said the four-year lineman, motioning toward the adjacent practice field, where 55 varsity Eaglets ran through conditioning drills.
"It's been a great day, I've been out here since 8 o'clock just working. It's cool right here; it's probably a little hotter on the turf right now."
Alumni Field at Monsignor Milewski Stadium is undergoing some radical changes as St. Mary's becomes the first Michigan school -- and just the third in the country -- to install red Field Turf. The project is expected to be finished this week.
"Interesting, yeah. It's different," senior quarterback Matt Linehan said. "We come out here and don't get a chance to practice on the field yet, but we're going to be ready to play on it in a couple of days, I think."
The field is likely to be blessed Friday, and the team will hold its Red-and-White game the following day. Until then, the players are instructed to stay off the field, "...or they're going to get yelled at by me," coach and athletic director George Porritt said.
The $600,000 project includes other cosmetic improvements, including a berm where "St. Mary's" is landscaped in stones, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary and a small waterfall, and there will be a new section of bleachers installed. But it's hard to turn away from the bright red playing field.
"It's gorgeous," said Porritt, beginning his 23rd season as head coach. "It does take a little getting used to, but there's definitely a wow factor there. It's unique, it's something different."
Even though the complex is fenced off for now, several athletes have seen the new surface up-close.
"We actually rolled out the turf ourselves," Linehan said. "It was a big team deal. They had the football team come out and roll half of it, and the lacrosse team did the other half. Everyone's really excited about it. Everyone just wants to get out there and play on it. The first time that happens it's going to be pretty cool."
However, the defending Division 3 state champions will have to wait just a bit longer. The Eaglets play their first two games on the road, at Muskegon and Toledo St. John's Jesuit.