Mark Kresovich extends his right hand to a Beaver Stadium visitor on a warm, sunny, late July afternoon.
Calloused, cracked and dry, Kresovich’s hands have all the markings of a seasoned laborer. His grip is firm and inviting as he slides his slick, mirror-lensed sunglasses up over his sunburned forehead and welcomes outsiders inside his domain with a wave.
“We’re getting ready to line it all up for paint,” Kresovich says, nodding toward the south end zone, where members of his Beaver Stadium grounds crew are measuring and stretching strings across the mammoth stadium’s immaculate, freshly cut Kentucky bluegrass.
For the next few weeks, Kresovich and his six-man Beaver Stadium grounds crew will be out here. They’ll be on their hands and knees measuring and painting, seated on mowers, walking behind aerifiers and spraying machines, working to prepare one of college football’s finest playing surfaces for its 54th season.
Kresovich has had a hand in readying Penn State’s field for the past 22 of them. And he’s been shaping parts of the University Park campus landscape in some form for the past three decades. This is the most exciting time of year for the 53-year old Wingate native.
Soon, he’ll get to see his handiwork and that of his men — crew members Paul Curtis, Doug Rosefsky, Larry Gawryla, Rod Hockenberry, Chad Alterio, team mechanic Jay Shook and their supervisor, Herb Combs — put to use.
It could be the last time, however.
Kresovich, the crew’s leader and second-in-command after Combs, Penn State’s supervisor of athletic fields, isn’t sure what his future will hold. He’s mulling retirement after this season but realizes a new slate of Penn State football games will bring new challenges that keep him coming back every day.
“I’m getting real close,” Kresovich says. “I don’t know when I’m going to go because I love what I’m doing. I really enjoy this.”
Perfect playing surface
Penn State defensive end Brad Bars remembers the first time he set foot on Beaver Stadium’s soft turf that has bits of rye grass mixed in.
He had to reach down and feel it with his hands. He didn’t want to leave.
“I really wanted to go lay down on it and go to sleep,” Bars said. “It was unbelievable. I really didn’t even think it was grass because it was that perfect of a playing surface. Those guys over there, they’re unbelievable. Same with our practice field. It’s the best surface that I’ve ever played on. The grass is perfect, everything about it is great and everything you’d want as a college football player.”
But Kresovich and the rest of his staff don’t work on football facilities exclusively. For years they’ve handled all of Penn State’s outdoor fields with the exception of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Sometimes they help out over there, too, however.
“To us, every field is just as important as every other field,” Kresovich said. “The football stadium is by far the most visible for everybody but that doesn’t mean that the soccer field and the softball field and the field hockey field and all of that isn’t as important. Everything is a priority to us.”
Kresovich and his crew have plenty of resources available to them to manage, manicure and maintain all of Penn State’s physical assets.
Take the short ride from Beaver Stadium down Park Avenue, turn right on University Drive and snake back through the old metal buildings at the northwest end of campus. The one with the pink yard flamingo propped up against an old tree is the landscaping team’s staging area and office space.
Dusty pickups, grimy dump trucks, golf carts caked with mud and an old blue and white box truck that looks like a retrofitted ice cream hauler with “Beaver Stadium Grounds Crew” on the side are just a handful of pieces of the team’s 16-vehicle fleet that occupy the parking lot. Multiple garages house the 80 to 100 pieces of equipment the team uses daily.
A cardboard Joe greets visitors who ascend the steps to the cluttered office. A long conference table littered with tools, work gloves and goggles, and sandwich condiments at each seat — these guys take quick lunch breaks — takes up most of the room. Offices for Kresovich and Combs are to the left. Plastered on the walls are wanted posters for invasive species, turfgrass pests and a chart explaining different turf diseases the team is always on the watch for and consistently spraying to prevent.
Then there are the signs from most of Penn State’s sports teams with sentiments similar to Bars’ scrawled on them.
Players on the 2011 women’s soccer team signed one recently: “Thank you for making Jeffrey Field the best field to play college soccer on!”
Kresovich and his crew helped install a new playing surface at Jeffrey in 2003. It was voted Collegiate Soccer Field of the Year by the SportsTurf Managers Association in 2006.
The crew has also been part of major overhauls of other Penn State fields.
Notably, Kresovich and his team undertook a massive project in the late ’90s to install a sand-based drainage system at Beaver Stadium. Then, under the supervision of former supervisor of athletic fields Bob Hudzik, Kresovich and the team pulled off the job by drilling nearly a quarter million holes with 24-inch bits into the field and filling them with sand. A 14-inch crown was added to the center of the field so all water now runs to the sides and out of the stadium’s subterranean drains.
“If you lay on one sideline on your belly and look across you can’t see the other side,” Kresovich said. “And most people don’t see that crown.”
The smallest technicalities get Kresovich going. He easily points out nuances, and can go through every aspect of his job step-by-step for anyone who’s curious.
It’s these qualities that make him so good at what he does, Hudzik said. Hudzik retired in 2011 after working nearly four decades at Penn State, most of them alongside Kresovich.
“He’s a dedicated person. He’s into details. So he likes things looking just right,” Hudzik said. “The whole crew is good and he’s an instrumental part of it.”
But looks aren’t the most important aspect.
“We’re known for the field looking so good, but aesthetics, that’s not our main goal,” Kresovich said. “Our main goal is that the field plays safe. So making it look good is very important to us because that’s our reputation. But we also have the reputation that the field plays so well.”
When Hudzik looks back on his career managing Penn State’s fields, the 1993 and 1995 Penn State seasons jump out at him.
The 1993 season saw what Hudzik remembers as “The First Sod Disaster” when Rutgers visited Beaver Stadium for a nationally televised game. A root disease had taken hold of the grass, and a heavy rainstorm combined with the effects of football players smashing into one another and the field caused the playing surface to break up in chunks.
Hudzik said he immediately called for the replacement of all of the sod, which was completed by the crew in time for the next home game.
In 1995, a wild snowstorm dropped 18 inches of snow into the stadium. Hudzik and company had to race to shovel out everything before Michigan, Penn State and fans could file in. Local prison inmates were recruited to help Kresovich, Combs and the rest of the crew.
“The crew was there for very many, many hours and Mark was instrumental in helping lead the crews in order to get that stadium ready for a snow game,” Hudzik said.
While Hudzik was never one to look for glory or awards, Beaver Stadium’s playing surface has become one of the most heralded natural-grass fields in the country. Officials from Purdue and the Washington Redskins have been among the more recent visitors to Happy Valley to talk field improvements with Combs and Kresovich.
Alan Gallagher, the head of stadium operations at Croke Park in Dublin, spent time with Combs to learn about preparing his pitch for the rigors of American football last season.
“It’s a phenomenal stadium — really, really great playing surface,” Gallagher said.
Combs and Hudzik, before he retired, have given many Penn State turfgrass students their starts over the years. Many of them have gone on to jobs managing other collegiate and professional facilities.
Most of them worked hands-on with Kresovich.
Penn State sophomore Thomas Goyne is one of about 20 students who work part-time alongside Kresovich and the crew. Goyne recently completed a summer internship with the Philadelphia Eagles where he worked alongside Director of Grounds Tony Leonard, a Penn State alum, and his assistants, Chad Cochenour and Nick Gialloreto, both also Penn State turfgrass science graduates.
Goyne found they used the same techniques as Kresovich, mostly because they learned from him. His experience working with Kresovich has given him an appreciation for the correct way to do what seems to be the simplest of tasks. Goyne traveled to Ireland for the Croke Park Classic, where he noticed the 5-yard lines were crooked on the grass normally used for Gaelic games.
“You definitely don’t see that here,” Goyne said. “Just the level of attention that they put in and that ‘Kressy’ and the other guys stress, that’s what carries over and I think that’s what helps Penn State guys that have learned from these guys get out there and establish themselves, but also have a really good reputation because it gives us that attention to detail that these guys have taught us over the years.”
While preparing for the first home game at Beaver Stadium last season, Goyne was tasked with painting parking lines for tailgaters on the intramural fields. His paint sprayer jammed and he sought out Kresovich for a quick fix.
“Kressy came out and fixed it for me and then to test it out a little bit — it’s a ride-on paint sprayer and they’re notorious for really not being able to go straight — Kressy jumped on it and painted the straightest line I’ve ever seen anyone paint with it,” Goyne said.
Nicest yard in town
A sweeping, lush 2-acre property up in Bush Hollow awaits Kresovich each day.
He leaves before the sun rises and is home usually as it’s going down or just after. He laughs when a stranger asks: “You must have the nicest yard in your neighborhood.”
“At one time, everybody talked about my yard,” Kresovich says, insisting he uses the same mowing patters as he does at Beaver Stadium. “Everybody still compliments and talks about my yard because I stripe it, just like we do the stadium or any field. So you always see the stripes in my yard and they’re straight.”
He got his start doing local yards down the road before attending college at what is now Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport. He studied tool design and drafting and quickly realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do. He couldn’t sit still behind a desk.
So he took a landscaping job with Penn State and has parlayed that into his current gig as leader of the Beaver Stadium crew.
“I’ll never forget the first time I walked out into the stadium, I couldn’t believe how big it was,” Kresovich says. “Just knowing that I had to paint yard lines on the field, I was so nervous that I wasn’t going to get them straight. Bob Hudzik was my supervisor at the time and he said, ‘Just relax, take your time.’
“And so I did. They weren’t perfect when I first started but it’s like anything else, the more you do it the better you get at it. You’re always thinking, you don’t want to spill paint and you want to make sure you get the lines as straight as they can be.”
He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to sit still if he calls it quits in a few months. In reality, he doesn’t plan to. No matter what decision he makes, Kresovich plans to be active. He helped coach the Bald Eagle Area High School junior varsity baseball team last season.
“Even if it’s taking care of (high school) fields,” he said. “ I just want to stay in this industry one way or another.”