Four construction workers on their lunch break sat in the stands at Meade Stadium Wednesday morning, watching the University of Rhode Island football team scrimmage on the new turf.
It was a welcome change for the Rams, who have been watching those workers for months.
“We’ve been looking at it like a new car in the garage,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “It was thrilling when you think about the effort of the entire program – inside and outside – to be able to bring this to reality. It’s something special.”
Wednesday’s scrimmage gave the Rams their first test drive on the new turf, the centerpiece of a $4.2 million renovation that will also include lights. The lights aren’t up yet, but are expected to be in place for the team’s home opener Sept. 7, which is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“It was a great practice,” senior offensive lineman Kevin Lawrence said. “We all really like the field and how it feels. It’s a big upgrade in our program.”
The project was announced last fall, with two $1 million gifts providing the spark. The athletic department raised an additional $1 million. The remaining $1.2 million came from student life as the field is slated to host campus events when not in use by the football team.
What the project represents isn’t lost on the players, particularly the veterans who started their careers in some lean years.
“When I first walked out there, I was talking to some of the guys I came here to play with in 2016,” said redshirt junior defensive lineman Andre Bibeault, a Cumberland native. “I was asking them, ‘The first year we were here, did you expect this to happen?’ And we were all just talking about it. We kind of had a little bit of doubt, but everything we did was leading up to this point. We put in a lot of work for it. It’s finally good to see the program advancing and our hard work paying off.”
The project was announced with an ambitious timeline – especially with additional fundraising required at the outset – but it’s a reality.
“There was a tremendous amount of effort. There were a lot of doors knocked on, a lot of people expressing a vision,” Fleming said. “We were very fortunate to get two major contributors to kick this thing off. Once that happened, there was a necessity for the university to buck up, there was a necessity for us to knock on a lot of other doors. At the end of the day, something that usually takes two years here at the University of Rhode Island took one year. And we are going to play on Sept. 7, under the lights at Meade Stadium, on a brand new field. It’s been a tremendous accomplishment by everybody involved.”
University president Dr. David Dooley was on the sidelines for the scrimmage, and spoke to the team at halftime, a sign that this was more than a Wednesday morning workout.
“He’s our captain. He’s the one that drives the ship,” Fleming said of Dooley. “You look at this university, for all the alumni coming back, they’re always saying, ‘Oh my god, the university is completely different than when they went to school.’ That’s really the mission of everybody, to try to continue to advance your product, your university. Our job is to continue to advance the name of the University of Rhode Island nationally by playing good football.”
The first chance will come under the lights, with the new turf gleaming. With their first steps taken on the field, the Rams can’t wait for more.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Bibeault said. “I know everybody has a lot of family coming to the game. We’re telling everybody up on top of campus to come down and watch the game. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. If anyone is around, you should come check it out.”