A four-acre, rectangle of green adjacent to SUNY Cortland’s Stadium Complex is the New York Jets’ summer fields of dreams.
Those dreams include a winning season, a division championship and maybe even a Lombardi Trophy. It all depends on the games that follow the professional football team’s annual three-week summer training camp in Cortland.
So when it comes to these practice fields, the Jets take their turf seriously. Weeks before the camp begins on July 26, the Jets grounds specialists go to work preparing perfect playing surfaces with quality care and feeding.
Thanks to Daniel Patrick Dryja ’04 and his SUNY Cortland grounds staff, the Jets field crew gets a strong head start. Dryja and his crew maintain the College’s game athletic fields. For the Jets they have faithfully tended the grass on the practice area — which is actually two side-by-side practice fields adjacent to the stadium’s artificial turf fields — during the months of soccer cleats and snow between summer training camps.
Their hard work and tender nurturing have drawn praise from the Jets, attention from bloggers and about a hundred sports turf professionals from throughout the state who attended a spring workshop aimed at explaining how Cortland’s athletic fields are maintained.
Dryja, a general mechanic in the General Maintenance Department of the College’s Physical Plant unit, and his crew are putting the skills and knowledge gleaned through their Jets experience to keep the College’s other game athletic fields looking impressive year-round.
|Daniel Dryja '04 looks over the turf of a playing field his staff maintains during the year until the New York Jets grounds keeping staff arrives.|
“I wasn’t a Jets fan before they came,” admitted Dryja of Groton, N.Y., who joined the College not long after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. “I’ve become a fan, but before that I was a (Donovan) McNabb lover, so I had to follow the Philadelphia Eagles.
“When we’re taking care of the field and the Jets crew isn’t here, we typically mow it three times a week,” said Dryja in mid-July, after the Jets field specialists had already been working their magic on the approximately 200,000-square foot temporary proving grounds for several weeks.
“It takes an hour and a half to two hours to mow,” Dryja said. “Anytime we need to spray something on it, that will take a couple hours.”
During Jets field prep and training, his crew handles any chemical treatments that might affect the environment because the New Jersey-based Jets staff doesn’t have the necessary certifications in New York state.
A spotlight was trained on Dryja recently when Jets blogger Randy Lange mentioned the College employee in an online update that focused on the work of Blake Hoerr, the Jets director of fields and grounds.
Lange, on the New York Jets website, quoted Hoerr’s compliment of Dryja. “Normally we have to go up there ahead of training camp and cut nearly two inches off the leaf tissue to get it down to the one-inch playing height that we prefer. Dan already had it cut down quite a bit for us. We didn’t have to shock the grass by cutting too much of the leaf tissue off at once.”
Dryja’s work — and that of another SUNY Cortland employee, the College’s grounds supervisor Don Moody — was on display to almost 100 sports field managers and vendors when the Sports Turf Managers of New York held its June 13 summer educational program at the College. Organized by Moody, an association member, and attended by Dryja, the program showed off the campus athletic training and game fields while participants learned about field aerification, topdressing, irrigation, the importance of testing for field safety, and how to care for artificial turf fields.
Generally, campus lawn maintenance is a very low profile profession.
“Everybody thinks you’re just out there mowing and watering lawns and but there’s really a lot more to it,” Dryja observed. “There’s so much chemistry and math involved.”
Athletic field maintainers typically collect and send core samples to a laboratory to assess the nutrient needs of the field. They fertilize, fight weeds and snow mold, monitor for fungal diseases, repel insect attacks and thin out thatch, which is living or dead organic matter such as lateral growing roots that strangles the grass. And they water, water, water.
“This type of year you have to water just to keep the grass alive and then the humidity just screams for diseases to move in,” Dryja said. “There’s so much more to it than a lot of people think.”
Dryja began working on the grounds crew while he was a still a SUNY Cortland student preparing himself for a career related to athletics. He also juggled a job at a plant nursery in Ithaca at the same time.
“I’d always enjoyed working outside and doing manual labor, it interested me,” said Dryja, a North Country native. The summer after his graduation, one of his former SUNY Cortland supervisors called Dryja about a temporary job. At least he thought it would be temporary at the time. For the next two years Dryja balanced work and family life — his wife, Elizabeth, has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, and the couple has a son and a second child on the way — with more classroom studies. He earned an associates degree in horticulture and landscape design from Morrisville State College.
|Dan Dryja '04, right, and members of his staff inspect the condition of the turf played on by the New York Jets during their summer training camp.|
“So now I’ve kind of got both sides covered. I understand what the athletes need and the turf needs,” he said.
Dryja said he’s learned a lot from Hoerr and the other Jets field maintenance staff members, Matt Henn, who manages field and grounds, and his assistant, Colin Meyers.
“We all help each other out,” Dryja said. “They’re a great bunch of guys. We all get along. It’s a good group working relationship.”
Dryja confessed the fields the New York Jets use are not his only fields of dreams.
“I enjoy the field,” he said. “I take care of it and I take pride in it. I want it to look good for Blake and for the Jets and for our teams who play on it. It’s got its special place.”
But his pride and joy are the College’s baseball, softball and soccer fields.
“They are natural turf. I don’t take better care of one field or another but those are our home team fields.”