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'It was unreal': Turf management major works with grounds crew at Super Bowl LIII

Wilson Morgan, junior, was the first Auburn student to win the Toro Turf Management competition.

Wilson Morgan was walking back to the rest of the grounds crew a few minutes before kick-off when he noticed UFC superstar Conor McGregor hurtling toward him.

Stunned, Morgan jumped out of the way just before McGregor raced by him to pump up the Super Bowl crowd, and that moment is really when it set in 

“I was blown away,” Morgan said. “That’s when it really hit me. I was like, ‘Holy cow, man. This is big time.’”

The realization of just how big an event he was a part of only kept sinking in as he continued to pass by big names such as Kevin Hart, J.J. Watt and even Adam Levine when he was getting ready to go on stage for the halftime performance.

Morgan, a junior in turf management, was Auburn’s first winner of the Toro Super Bowl Sports Turf Training competition in its 16th year of existence. For the grand prize of the contest, Morgan worked alongside the grounds crew at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Super Bowl LIII.

Morgan headed into Atlanta on Sunday, Jan. 27, a full week ahead of the actual game, to work with the grounds crew in preparation and rehearsal in the lead-up to the biggest sporting event in the United States. He stayed until Monday, Feb. 4, getting professional work experience each day.

Working for a grounds crew is nothing new to Morgan, who has worked on the sidelines for Auburn home football games. He can remember thinking how intense and crowded the sidelines were for the SEC games, but it could not compare to what he experienced Sunday.

“It was unreal,” Morgan said. “Just trying to walk through people to where I needed to be. I mean it was crazy. That’s the only word for it. It was just crazy.”

During the week, Morgan got hands-on experience with halftime preparation, turf lining, logo painting, irrigation maintenance and preparation for media day.

“I probably watched the halftime show five or six times through all the rehearsals and everything,” Morgan said. “It was really cool to see them practicing with the empty stadium.”

Although the experience called for Morgan to be on site a full week ahead of the actual game, the rest of the crew had been in Atlanta since Jan. 9, working and preparing for the game. 

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Morgan said.

He added that he got to see the near-flawless work of Ed Mangan, Super Bowl field director, and George Toma, who has been on the grounds crew for each of the 52 Super Bowls.

“They work great together, they know how to bend and weave with each other and it’s almost like a show in itself watching these guys work,” Morgan said.

Super Bowl LIII was not Morgan’s first time working in an NFL stadium, however. Last summer, he interned with the Miami Dolphins’ grounds crew, doing similar work as he did in Atlanta. 

“I really have enjoyed working with the NFL, and that would definitely be something I would pursue when it’s time to graduate, but I don’t want to close too many doors,” Morgan said. 

This summer, Morgan will be interning with the Philadelphia Phillies, which will give him the opportunity to try an experience outside of football-field care.

“It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot and I can’t believe it’s over — it went by really fast,” he said.

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Regardless of whether Morgan chooses to pursue the NFL, he is appreciative of the opportunity that the Toro Company provided.

“You can’t imagine being able to work on the grounds crew as an undergrad,” he said. “It was one of the best weeks of my life.”

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