An Indepth Look at Death Valley

"Listen, I would love to talk to you, but right now I'm headed up there to cut the grass." THE WHAT? Mike Echols, Director of Athletic Grounds at Clemson University, told me this when I called him today to ask for some information about Death Valley's progress and to get permission to walk out on the field and have a look.

You probably won't remember the name come September the 7th when Louisiana Tech rolls into town, but believe me, you will respect what Echols and his staff have done with the turf in the Clemson's Death Valley when you arrive for that game.

As you can see from these photos taken Friday the 26th, the field is now more than 95% covered with grass. This progress is on schedule with that which was set over two years ago in the planning stages of Tiger Pride's Phase II.

"The grass is growing exponentially", Echols says. "We've had the springs out for six weeks as of today, which amounts to really four weeks of actual growth time" Echols has been cutting the grass for a little over a week, which is about the length of time the field has been green. "The first couple of weeks, the sprigs didn't seem to be doing anything, then it just took off" Here in the last week, the grass growth has really asserted itself. "We have a few bare spots, which we haven't specifically addressed yet."

These sandy spots will be given one more week to cover themselves, then other measures will go into effect. Echols says that there are specific foliate fertilizers that encourage lateral rather than vertical growth. Another avenue of attack would be to cut plugs from areas where the growth is especially thick and transplant them into the sandy areas.

"Right now, we've had about four solid weeks of growth, and this is how far the grass has gotten in that time. Figure that we have about the same amount of time left before the field has to be ready, I'm pretty sure we're in good shape" Mr. Echols said today. He wasn't quite as sure of himself earlier this week. On Tuesday afternoon, a thunderstorm came up in Clemson. Weather reports indicate that 1.8 inches of rain fell on the stadium area within 45 minutes. To borrow an old Southern term, it was a gullywasher.

"I was worried, but the field held up great. The only places that there was backup was at the ends of the field, where the runoff from the stands hits ground level. We walked out to inspect the field, and you could have played on it thirty minutes after the rain had stopped." This is a true testament to the new field drainage system. The old system, in such a downpour, would have created ponds on either side of the field extending to about where the hash marks would normally be.

The new system is indeed a gravity feed system and not the rumored vacuum assisted "sub-aire" system. The field is broken into quadrants. Each quadrant has lines the run from midfield to the endzones, spaced on ten foot centers. These are perforated, smooth walled lines that accept the excess moisture and, in effect, give the water a highway to "get out of town".

After the storm on Tuesday, Echols has no more worries about the field's ability to drain itself. The playing area itself is elevated from where it once was. The sub-grade was done using laser guided grading equipment. "It was as flat as a billiards table when they finished the grading", Echols said, "I wish somebody had gotten some photos of that." Echols credits the engineers involved in the process for limiting the amount of water that comes from campus.

In fact, Echols doesn't want any credit at all. He refused to pose for a photo. "I don't need any pictures, I don't want all these fans mad at me if something goes wrong." Echols is like the coach of the field. "We're doing something to it every day to get it ready. We're mixing between the foliate and the ground fertilization and cutting every other day." Echols was quick to point the finger in other directions when handing out accolades. He credited the professor of turf studies, crediting him for providing invaluable expertise and advice.

He mentioned Milliken, whose turf sciences division donated many of the chemicals that are now being used on the playing surface. Had the conversation gone any further in this vein, he probably would have credited everyone he had ever met. He knows that Clemson fans will remember this season for many years, the last thing he wants them to remember it for is a bad field.

Mike Echols, the Tommy Bowden of Tiger turf. Top Stories