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Duke University’s Robert Weiseman on maintaining SFMA’s 2023 College Football Field of the Year

January 19, 2024  - By

When looking back on the road that led him to his position with Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium, Robert Weiseman, deputy director of athletics/operations and capital projects, initially thought his career was going to be in baseball.

Kat Castner

Photo: Kat Castner

“I’ve been an athlete ever since I was young,” Weiseman says. “As I came through high school, all I wanted to do was play baseball in college. So, I went to a small Division III school in Virginia, now called the University of Lynchburg. While I was there, I quickly realized that baseball was not going to be my career.”

Promptly moving into sports management, he now enjoys a career in college athletics that spans 23 years.

After all this time, he says it was “fantastic” to see the 2023 Field of the Year winners recently announced by the Sports Field Management Association (SFMA). The awards highlight the best and brightest in safe playing turf.

Among that list is Brooks Field at Duke University in Durham, N.C., winning for Football at the College and University category.

“This honor is something our landscape services team strives for annually, no matter the field,” Weiseman says. “It is a point of pride for them, as well as Duke University and Duke Athletics, to provide premier athletic playing surfaces to our student-athletes.”

Photo: Kat Castner

Photo: Kat Castner

A brief history

After starting his tenure at Duke in January 2008, Weiseman helped with a major upgrade to the football program and facilities, spanning from 2014 to 2017.

Originally, the stadium, serving as the home field for the Duke Blue Devils, held over 34,000 seats. The upgrade would feature an increase in the number of seats to 40,000, remove the track and add new concessions, gates, first aid stations, restrooms and additional seating in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Completion of the project ended in 2017 when the crew completed the construction of ADA boxes and a ticket booth at the north gate, along with the replacement of the north concourse with an auxiliary scoreboard and the rebuilding of the concourse before the start of that year’s season.

“It was a gigantic investment,” Weiseman says. “For the most part since that initial installation, we haven’t had to do any major maintenance. It’s been a high-quality field. We are only Bermuda on that particular surface. We do not overseed at any point in time. Very minimal amount of sodding. The only place we really sod now is our midfield logo and our end zones.”

Keeping the field ready

Even with these changes, Weiseman and his crew still face challenges. The biggest challenge proves to be adjusting for the weather and trying to keep the field looking as good as possible.

“We know by mid-to-late October or early November that we’re going to start to see dormancy,” Weiseman says. “And so, if we can’t get on our growth blankets for an extended period of time, then we’re going to have a problem. Not a big problem necessarily, but we’re obviously going to have a field that we don’t like the overall aesthetic of.”

In the past, he says that they have gotten lucky. There have been windows during the time in October through November where the crew has been able to cover the field immediately after the last game before temperatures start to drop.

All this work revolves around the football season. This year, the Duke Blue Devils are coming off an 8-5 season, which was capped with their Birmingham Bowl win over Troy Trojans from Troy University for their fifth straight post-season victory. The team recently hired Manny Diaz, who was previously Penn State’s defensive coordinator, as their new head coach.

“A highlight of my job is getting to work with coaches, administrators, professors, students and student-athletes that strive to achieve at a championship level in everything they do,” Weiseman says. “Duke and the people at Duke bring out the best in everyone who chooses to work or educate themselves here.”

Sports isn’t the only use for the field. Every May, Weiseman must prepare for Duke’s commencement. These preparations include installing field protection to access the far sideline.

Photo: Kat Castner

Photo: Kat Castner

Remaining grateful

Weiseman is grateful for his crew, including Ian Christie, Scott Thompson and Cooper Boyce.

When he first started at Duke, Weiseman says there was only one full-time employee and an intern. Cut to now, he has a team of 12, plus the campus support entities with their landscape services and grounds department, environmental services and facilities management.

“Brooks Field is the one field within our space that obviously gets national attention, but they are on the field blowing debris, picking up trash, mowing, getting it covered and doing whatever they need to do to make sure we’re ready to go for next week,” Weiseman says. “It’s that kind of effort, dedication and attention to detail that it takes to make sure you have the best surface possible for both your student-athletes and the other school members that come to play. The future is bright in Durham.”

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