UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Collin Meyers, a 2010 graduate of the turfgrass science program in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, will accompany the Atlanta Falcons as they take the field at the Super Bowl in Houston on Sunday.
Meyers, a State College native, has been a grounds assistant for the Falcons for the past three seasons. He and his counterparts maintain a 50-acre complex and are responsible for all grass and landscape features, including three grass football fields used by the team for practice and play. It’s a dream job, according to Meyers.
“I absolutely love being able to work outside every day,” he said. “And it’s awesome to be able to put out a product that my coworkers and I have worked really hard on during the whole season and to provide the players with a safe surface to play on throughout the year. Just being around big-time athletes and being able to say that you work for an NFL team is pretty cool.”
There are unexpected opportunities in working with a professional football franchise. Early in his work with the Falcons, Meyers was asked if he would be comfortable helping to set up the digital tablets in the coaches’ booths. Now, in additional to assisting at home games, he also travels with the team to make sure the technology is running smoothly. When his team made it to the Super Bowl, Meyers was invited to join them on gameday.
“The owner was generous enough to give us complimentary tickets as well as airfare and hotel. I’m really excited to be able to take my family to experience the Super Bowl. I know it’s not something that everyone gets to do,” he said.
Although he will not be working on turf maintenance at the Super Bowl, Meyers expects to see a few familiar faces. In his time working within the NFL, he has become familiar with the network of turf professionals maintaining grass and landscaping for industry. “We have meetings at the end of each season, and it changes city to city,” he noted.
Prior to his position with the Falcons, Meyers worked three seasons with the New York Jets, a position he landed through connections he made during a summer internship with the team.
“After graduation I did almost an entire season with the Altoona Curve as a seasonal assistant before I heard the Jets were hiring,” he recalled. “I had a pretty good relationship with my boss during my internship, so I gave him a call and was able to get the job.”
His ability to transition from Altoona to New York to Atlanta has been due primarily to connections made within the tight-knit industry, where head groundskeepers communicate regularly about staff members who might be able to fill vacant positions. But graduating from one of the nation’s top turfgrass science programs hasn’t hurt, either. In Meyers’ experience, it has been a combination of skill and experience gained at Penn State and the university’s legendary network which has helped him to achieve his goals.
“Just in my major alone, a lot of companies and organizations love hiring graduates out of Penn State. I think it’s been a huge asset for me,” he said. “I run into Penn State people a lot — I know there are some working for the Eagles and the Steelers, too.”
Gaining a head groundskeeper position in the NFL, Major League Baseball or Major League Soccer is not easy, as there are limited positions, according to Andrew McNitt, professor of soil science and coordinator for the turfgrass science undergraduate program.
“But students like Collin can pursue their passion by being flexible and being willing to relocate. And the sports turf industry is growing as more municipalities and even high schools are realizing it makes sense to hire a professional turfgrass manager to improve playing surfaces and the efficiency of their operations,” said McNitt, who also is director of Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research.
“The number of Penn State turfgrass alumni currently working in the NFL, MLB and MLS has grown to the point that I have begun to lose track of them all,” McNitt continued. “Thankfully, most of them are able to stay connected to the university via social media and organizational participation.”
For students who are interested in working in turf or landscaping with a professional sports team, Meyers recommends getting hands-on experience as early as possible. “Just get your foot in the door. Apply for summer jobs or as a student worker for an athletic fields department. They know a great deal about grass and that can help you even before you get an internship. Then start interning as soon as you can, not just for the credit, but for the experience.”
The turfgrass science major provides an integrated program of study that includes basic and applied sciences, business management courses, and an internship to prepare students for careers in turfgrass management and related areas or graduate programs.