When Bob Osborn arrived in Barnegat’s school district to take on the new grounds coordinator job on July 1, 2004, he “inherited” one particular patch of land on a hill behind the new high school made up of “garbage grass” and was told to make a football field out of it.
“It had some dirt, a lot of weeds, and some patches of grass here and there,” he said. “We basically started with nothing. It was pretty bad.”
After months of thatching, aerating and seeding the land, it started to resemble a football field as the new students — just one class of freshmen at the time — began classes, then by the end of the fall it “was 70-percent toward where I wanted it.”
“By the following spring, it was fully where it needed to be so our JV football team could start playing on it in the fall,” said Osborn, who along with crewmates Dave Thompson, Ed and Chris DeCicco, Robert Frost and John Kozak are responsible not only for the football field looking sharp during the season but also for all the schools’ grounds throughout the district of a high school, middle school and four elementary schools.
“We put in a lot of man hours up there on that hill. We started from scratch and it took us 11 months to get it right. We’ve done our best to keep up with it ever since, and our guys are proud of that field.”
Asbury Park Press readers voted the Bengals’ home turf as the best grass field in a recent online poll. Barnegat’s grass, which snagged 34.5 percent of the vote, outscored neighboring Southern Regional (19.3 percent). Jackson Liberty and Wall tied for third with 16.8 percent, and Ocean drew 12.6 percent of the vote.
Maintaining the field starts in the spring, after the last frost, when Osborn and his crew aerate, seed and fertilize. Once the spring sports season is over — both the boys and girls lacrosse teams utilize the field in the spring — they aerate and seed again, then once a week during the summer they spot seed to fill in bare or lightly grown patches.
“We use a mixture of blue, tall fescue and rye grass seed for our field,” he said. “We use the tall fescue because it’s a sturdier grass with deeper roots. We use the rye because it’s a good filler grass. And we use the blue because it brings out the color. We use about 900 pounds of seed per year and six bags of fertilizer, with each bag covering 15,000 square feet per application.”
About two weeks before the fall season gets under way, Osborn’s team fertilizes the field again in an effort to revitalize it once the extreme summer heat has passed. Once the fall season starts, every Monday after each home football game they overseed with rye grass to keep the field from developing bare patches.
“We literally go out with a hand spreader to do our overseeding,” said Osborn, whose brother, Tim, is the head coach at Jackson Liberty, where the Bengals play on the road this week. “We use rye grass to overseed because it germinates quickly, and within about 7 to 10 days those areas where we seed are regrowing.”
At the end of the season, sometime around mid-November if there is no playoff or Thanksgiving Day game that year, Osborn’s crew does another aeration and seeding before “putting the field to bed” with a winter fertilizer. If there is a playoff or Thanksgiving Day game, the winterizing process occurs immediately after the final game.
For the four or fives home games during the season, the crew goes through about 25 gallons of white paint per game to line and number the field. The paw print that adorns midfield takes about five gallons of orange and a gallon of black paint. For the playoffs and/or Thanksgiving, when Osborn has his crew paint “Bengals” in each end zone, they use some 30 gallons of orange and five gallons of black paint.
When they cut the grass, Osborn likes “the light-dark look,” which gives the field a striped look per every five yards.
Osborn’s crew during last year’s Ocean County Sportsmanship Awards dinner received the “Support Staff of the Year” award, according to athletic director John Germano. They regularly consult with head coach Rob Davis about the condition of the field.
“I’ll talk to Rob on Thursday, ask him what he wants, and we make the final cut either taller or shorter,” Osborn said. “We also determine how damp we need to keep the field. We definitely try to create a home field advantage.”
Besides the delight and pride that comes from creating a masterpiece field, Osborn said the most enjoyment derives from the student body and fans who are very complimentary.
“I love seeing the kids, parents and fans come to the field and get excited about it,” he said. “A lot of people appreciate what we do, and it’s a good feeling when they talk about how nice the field looks. I have the hardest-working crew in the Shore, and all my guys have a piece in this. We want it to be a great field, so we make it that way.”