UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With the defending National Football League champion Green Bay Packers having another great season and securing home-field advantage in the NFL’s upcoming playoffs, millions of people will by looking at Allen Johnson’s work when they watch the games.
He is a graduate of the Penn State University’s Advanced Turfgrass Management Certificate Program. Johnson grew up watching the Green Bay Packers with his dad, but little did he know that one day he’d be working for them. And, thanks to the Turfgrass Science program offered by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, he developed the technical knowledge needed to be promoted while he continued working.
“I basically fell into this work,” he said. “It was really by chance.”
After graduating with a degree in Public Administration from Northern Michigan University, Johnson’s first job was at an insurance company. Unsatisfied, he took a temporary construction job helping to rebuild Lambeau Field. He soon was hired as assistant manager before being promoted to his current position as fields manager.
“I did not have that specific college-level, turfgrass-management education,” Johnson explained. “I felt it definitely would benefit me to have that.” That’s when he turned to the Advanced Turfgrass Management Certificate Program through the Penn State World Campus, the online division of the university.
The advanced turfgrass certificate program is a comprehensive, 30-credit course of study intended for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Johnson was able to complete the certificate in two years, finishing in February 2002.
The online format allowed him to complete his certificate at his own pace while working.
“Learning technical information helped me a lot,” Johnson said. “I developed good relations with professors, and I still keep in touch. It also gave me more credibility when pitching ideas. They know I have an education to back it up.”
Now in his 15th season with the Green Bay Packers, Johnson said the best part of his job is the freedom he has to maintain the fields the way he feels is best. He said nurturing the grass at Lambeau Field, famously nicknamed “the Frozen Tundra,” is quite a challenge because the eight-game home regular season and two home preseason games can wear down natural turf.
Complicating the challenge is the fact that most grasses start to go dormant by the third week in October, and most NFL fields are getting pretty worn by the end of the season.
In Green Bay, grasses stop growing about mid-September — practically the beginning of the football season — so most of the season is played on dormant turf. The winter months can be especially harsh in Green Bay.