NMU football: Turf repairs force Wildcats out into cold, snow on first day of spring season

MARQUETTE – Mother Nature doesn’t let football teams cheat when it comes to spring.

Spring won’t officially arrive until about 1 p.m. Thursday, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, so what the Northern Michigan University team was technically doing on Tuesday morning was winter practice.

And with the Wildcats forced outside due to a breakdown of its artificial turf rolling machine in the Superior Dome, the weather was definitely winter-like.

Though temperatures – and wind chills – weren’t anywhere as cold as they’ve been in recent weeks, snowfall that got heavier and heavier made those in attendance think more of the Green Bay Packers’ Ice Bowl than any indoor games ever played in Detroit or Minneapolis.

“This is a great way to start spring practice,” NMU coach Chris Ostrowsky said after coming indoors following drills that took place just outside the dome on a practice field overlooking Lake Superior. “I thought it was a lot of fun.”

The practice broke up at about 9 a.m. after an hour and 45 minutes, and spirits were high.

With one of last year’s multitude of quarterbacks, soon-to-be sophomore Shaye Brown, taking many of the snaps, and new transfer Jaranta Lewis taking most of the balance, Wildcats receivers and pass defenders let out whoops when one from their side of the ball caught a pass on the snowy, slippery field.

The players weren’t wearing shoulder pads, but they had plenty of padding from all the layers they wore, making a few slips and slides more humorous than concerning.

Senior-to-be outside linebacker Nick Krause said conditions weren’t severe.

“Once you start running around, you stay warm pretty easily,” he said. “We just wanted to run through some simple plays anyway, this being the first day of practice.”

Ostrowsky said despite difficult footing, the team accomplished what it needed to as it gets ready for his third year as head coach.

“It’s always important to establish your brand,” he said about setting a tone for this season. “We want to play with great energy and maintain that for all 15 practices (this spring).”

Ostrowsky’s feeling was that if the Wildcats could execute under these conditions, then playing indoors ought to be a snap. That plus Krause pointed out the team didn’t win any of its outdoor road games last season when the Wildcats went 3-7.

Tuesday’s unusual situation came about because of a broken roller in the AstroTurf Magic Carpet system that rolls up and rolls out the turf inside the dome.

While the major components of the system were replaced when the dome got new turf around five years ago, several of the rollers that insure the “grass” sits correctly above the hard concrete-like floor were kept from when the dome first opened in 1991, according to Carl Bammert, NMU associate director of facilities.

“The turf actually floats on air with two rows of air ducts underneath,” Bammert said, adding that the breakdown occurred during the Finlandia softball tournament held March 1-2.

Staff were unable to roll up the turf completely and the end is still sitting folded in a somewhat unruly fashion off the end of the main roller drum that holds most of the turf.

At least four technicians, who Bammert said were from the AstroTurf headquarters in Georgia, were seen working on the Magic Turf machine on Tuesday morning.

Ostrowsky pushed back today’s morning practice to 9 p.m. in hopes the turf could be laid down, but didn’t indicate whether the team would be outside again if that didn’t happen.

With the annual Upper Peninsula Boat, Sport and RV Show set to take over the dome Friday through Sunday, the NMU football team won’t practice again until Monday. Spring practice ends with the annual Spring Game at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 12.