NAUGATUCK — The decision to install artificial turf on the main field at Naugatuck High was made long before Craig Bruno came aboard as the Greyhounds’ new football coach. But the two independent decisions may result in something better than anyone could have imagined.
Naugy’s turf installation is more than halfway complete. The base and drainage was constructed in June and early July, and the rolls of turf that cover the 130-by-68-yard surface are close to being completely laid.
The new field, which will be both a gridiron and a pitch, is part of the high school renovation plan, an $81 million project approved by borough voters in 2011. Construction began this spring, with the first major progress made at Veterans Field.
About $8 million of the approved cost is dedicated to improvements on the athletic facilities, including the turf field surrounded by an eight-lane track, natural grass baseball and softball fields on the lower level, new locker rooms and fitness areas, and renovations of the pool and gym. The last major renovation to the fields was in the late 1980s.
The grandstand capacity on the main field will be expanded to 1,688, with 14 handicap spaces added. The new baseball and softball fields will be last completed, as they will need time for the new grass to set. The softball fence will be 185 feet away from home plate, and the baseball dimensions will be 330 feet in left, 340 feet in center and 280 feet in right.
This season will be Bruno’s first at Naugatuck after he spent 12 years at Bunnell. There, he coached his alma mater to its first two state titles in 2006 and 2007 thanks to a passing-heavy offense.
In Bruno’s last seven seasons at Bunnell, which plays on turf, five times his starting quarterback threw for at least 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. No Greyhound has ever reached either milestone.
That could change with junior quarterback Jason Bradley, who threw for 1,492 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore. He’ll need to develop new targets with Mick Pernell and Brandon Kuczenski gone, but he will never again have to deal with a muddy home field.
“We’re going to throw the ball a lot so a better surface is going to make it better for that,” Bruno said. “Most teams have it now, so it’s better for everyone involved.”
Wolcott was the first Naugatuck Valley League school to install turf in 2006. Municipal Stadium and Watertown followed suit, and Seymour has tried several times to get approval for turf. Oxford, which will enter the NVL in 2014, will open its new field this fall.
“The real big advantage is that you can practice on it,” Bruno said. “On days where grass wouldn’t be good to practice on, we won’t have to worry about that.”
Bruno said he has been assured by administrators that the field will be ready for Naugatuck’s home opener Sept. 20 against Wolcott.
“We’re really excited for it to be finished,” Bruno said.