When Chris O'Neill was working on the installation of Bronco Stadium’s new blue turf earlier this summer, he had more than a vested interest in the project.
Now when the Boise State tight absorbs a nasty lick on the new field and bounces up unscathed, he can take comfort in knowing the newly installed FieldTurf playing surface he helped put in may have helped cushion the blow.
As part of a summer internship with McAlvain Construction, O’Neill, a marketing and construction management major, worked as a project engineer on the installation of the newest version of Boise State’s famous blue football field. His duties under site supervisor Mike Wilson, a standout wide receiver for the Broncos in the early ’90s, included various tasks and quality control monitoring.
“It was a cool experience to know I put blood, sweat and tears into building the turf,” said O’Neill, “and then put blood sweat and tears into helping to build the football program.”
Thanks to that experience, he’s the football team’s resident expert on the new turf. You can tell by the excitement in his voice that it’s a subject he enjoys discussing. “The new field is top of the line; there nothing better out there,” he said.
The most obvious difference between the FieldTurf, currently used by more than 20 NFL teams, and Bronco Stadium’s old AstroPlay is the new field’s deeper blue.
But there’s much more to it, O’Neill said. The new underlayment is a patented composite material generated by combining high crystalline polypropylene beads and an inert, non-leeching binding agent.
The result is a clean, resilient, durable energy-absorbing material “tuned” specifically for sports played on synthetic turf fields. It provides a flat, firm playing surface with a unique impact profile that enhances both player safety and performance. “So when a player lands on his shoulder, for example, it disperses the impact,” O’Neill explained.
The new turf also “plays more like a grass surface,” he added. “The blades themselves are longer. There’s more rubber in it, so it’s a little more giving. It will be safer.”
O’Neill’s combination of technical knowledge and football skills have served him well as a student-athlete at BSU. And with Boise State’s headline-grabbing football program, first-rate construction management program in the College of Engineering, and ongoing campus building projects, O’Neill said he couldn’t be in a better place at a better time especially with the university’s Campus Master Plan calling for additional construction projects over the next several years
“I’ve looked at some of the material the university has published regarding plans for more expansion of Bronco Stadium and other projects,” he said. “I definitely would love to be part of a local construction firm that does that kind of work.”
It’s the kind of work that has fascinated O’Neill for years.
“Construction is my passion,” he said. “People are always making fun of me because I’ll be walking around campus with my head in clouds, looking at what they’re building. I watched the day-by-day process of the construction of the Interactive Learning Center, I watched them drive piles for the new press box, and the Student Union expansion certainly gets my attention. Now I’m watching them build the concrete stairwell in new nursing building. It’s a fun process to watch.”
A 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior from Moraga, Calif., O’Neill is scheduled to graduate with his marketing degree in May. It will probably take him an additional four or so semesters to get his construction management degree because the program’s labs conflicted with football practice.
But he’s always been the type who has been able to balance the demands of playing college football with the rigors of earning a college degree, a trait that head coach Chris Petersen admires and appreciates.
“Chris isn’t necessarily going to be a headline guy that people are going to read about regularly,” said Petersen, “but he’s very much a team leader. He’s a smart guy in the classroom and on the football field; one of those blue-collar performers to have to have to win with.”
Last season O’Neill caught 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown numbers he hopes to surpass in 2008.
“But my role with the team is whatever they need from me,” he said. “During fall camp I’ve stepped up my blocking, my footwork and my technique, and I think it’s showing.”
With the Bronco offense and its multiple formations and liberal use of substitutes, O’Neill is certain to get his chances.
“Our depth keeps the starters on their toes because they know if our role players perform well, they’re going to get their chances,” he said. “I think the competition is healthy for the team.”
Like most of his teammates, O’Neill is relieved to have fall camp over and looking forward to Saturday’s opening game against Idaho State.
“This year’s camp was one of the hardest ones I’ve been through,” he said. “Guys were working awfully hard. I think we’re refocused after last year and I think we’re on the right track.”
And when his football days are over, O’Neill will likely be on the right track for a successful career in the construction business.