Fresno State as part of the first phase of university-funded improvements to Bulldog Stadium will be replacing a playing field that was installed in 2011, features a big Bulldogs logo at the 50-yard line and distinctive checkerboard end zone — and in just eight seasons of football was home to a lot of history.
Quarterback Derek Carr became the program’s leading passer on that field when throwing for 487 yards in a 2013 victory over Nevada, on his way to 12,842 career passing yards. Running back Robbie Rouse became the leading rusher on a 94-yard touchdown run in a rout of Colorado in 2012, on his way to 4,647 career rushing yards. Wideout KeeSean Johnson became the leading receiver there with the last of eight catches in a victory over Hawaii last season, on his way to 275 career receptions.
Safety Phillip Thomas, the first unanimous All-American in Fresno State history, played on that field as did seven NFL draft picks including wideout Davante Adams.
The Bulldogs also won the first Mountain West Conference championship game in 2013 on their home field, beating Utah State 24-17, and are 33-16 since the turf was installed including 11 wins in their past 12 home games.
But, like the stadium, the turf is showing its age, athletic director Terry Tumey said.
“It has been a few years since that field has been invested in,” he said. “As we are looking to invest in our student-athletes and invest in that facility, the playing surface probably would be one of the first things you want to think about.
“The field, being eight to 10 years old, we know the life of a field even when taken care of properly is somewhere around that time period so we felt that was a valuable decision to move forward with. We would hope by the start of the 2019 football campaign, the Bulldogs will be playing on a new football field.”
Said coach Jeff Tedford: “It’s time. It’s close to 10 years old, I think, and so it’d be nice to have a new product out there, something that’s safe for the kids. For safety, performance, all of it, it comes with a new turf field.”
The new artificial turf field, which is expected to be installed this summer, has not yet been designed. But Tumey said the unique elements of the existing field will be included in the new playing surface.
“We haven’t got to that point, but I think many folks see that checkerboard and it resonates Fresno State,” Tumey said.
“We’re going to have some things that are iconic, that are representing the Valley. The Bulldog of course is going to be a primary part of it, because that’s what we are. We’re Bulldogs and we’re going to make sure that’s represented and represented well. But the checkerboard and what the ‘V’ stands for in this Valley, that’s important.”
At some point fans will have an opportunity to take home some of that history.
“We feel that there have been so many great moments on the field, so many memories on the field, to take a piece of that to kind of memorialize those moments for you and to make them real and say, ‘I was there and I was a part of it’ is key,” Tumey said.
“So there will be opportunities for individuals to take a little piece of Bulldog Stadium with them. I think that’s going to be important. To take a piece of Jim Sweeney Field with you I think is key. It will be huge. There have been so many great moments on that field, a lot of good memories and a lot of good times.”
With the new field, the university this offseason also will upgrade the electrical systems and make other infrastructure improvements in the stadium, which opened in 1980.
Fresno State had a game against Hawaii last season delayed for about 30 minutes when a bank of lights went out in the first quarter – not a good look considering it was homecoming and the game was nationally televised on ESPN2.
The university also has plans to renovate restrooms and concessions stands and improve access around the stadium, part of a $45 million modernization project developed after scrapping plans last year for a more ambitious renovation.
That plan, launched by former athletic director Jim Bartko, was to include a cross-aisle to ease entry to and access around the seating bowl and a three-level tower on the west side of the stadium that would include new suites, a stadium club and a press box.
Fresno State will hold its spring preview Saturday, the last of its 15 spring practices. The Bulldogs are not expected to have any live periods, but will go through individual drills and team practice periods and run through a situational scrimmage.
The event is free and open to the public.
The morning starts at 8 a.m. with a spring clearance sale of excess uniforms, T-shirts, jackets, sweatpants and equipment in the blue parking lot south of the stadium.
The practice will start at 10:30 a.m. and afterward players and coaches will be available for about 30 minutes on the field to sign autographs.