$10 million complex includes turf field, modern equipment
By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Before the first students suit up to play football this fall for John Paul II Catholic High School, the school has plans to cover them from head to toe.
Sean Murphy, the school's athletics director and head football coach, said the Saints will be the only team east of Raleigh to play on a field turf surface. In addition the school's new football team may be the first in the state to be outfitted with Vicis Zero1 helmets.
School officials said both efforts are being undertaken with safety in mind.
Murphy said Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore, where he coached football for more than 20 years, saw a reduction in injuries, especially knee injuries, after installing field turf.
The turf, used in some college and professional stadiums, also is known for its weather resistance.
“You never have to worry about weather, rain,” said Murphy, a former assistant football coach at Towson University, where he played football in college.“We could have six days of straight rain, and we could play on that surface because it drains so well.”
The football program is part of a 23-acre expansion at John Paul II, which is constructing an athletic campus on 14th Street beside its classroom building. In addition to the lighted field turf stadium, which also will be used for soccer and lacrosse, the campus will include a gymnasium, baseball and softball fields with batting cages, and two beach volleyball courts.
The complex will be open to students from John Paul II and St. Peter Catholic schools.
“One of the issues in the past is our athletic facilities are 20 minutes away over at St. Gabriel's,” Murphy said. “A lot of parents want the whole package. Playing sports is a part of your educational experience.”
Doug Smith, the school's director of recruiting and advancement, said John Paul II, which will be the only private school in Pitt County to have a football team, plans to compete in eight-man football.
“Private schools in eastern North Carolina, similarly, do not have enough enrollment to support an 11-man football team,” he said. “If we played 11-man football, we'd have to be traveling to Charlotte (to play).”
John Paul II, a member of the Coastal Plains Independent Conference, will play in North Carolina's Big 8 Conference for football.
Murphy welcomes the chance to build a program from scratch and to adapt to a new style of football.
“I've talked to some college coaches to see if it would have an impact on recruitment and they have assured me it wouldn't,” he said, adding that Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch, a first-round draft pick, played eight-man football in high school. “He made a comment to say he thought he was a better player as a result of playing eight-man because you play both ways and you had to be a little bit more of an athlete.”
John Paul II's new football players each will be fitted with Vicis helmet like ones used by NFL and NCAA teams. The helmets, which cost about $1,000 each, compared about $250 for standard helmets, are designed to reduce impact forces.
“They're basically custom made for each kid,” Murphy said. “They're the safest in the industry.”
No expense has been spared throughout the $10 million athletics campus. Smith said 8,000 truckloads of dirt were used to build up the property. The football field is now eye-level with the first-floor ceilings of Quail Ridge town homes, which are located behind it.
“Somebody made the joke if we ever get another hurricane, that's going to be the highest place in Greenville to go,” Smith said.
Murphy said the baseball field, which is similar to the field at ECU with step-down dugouts and turf along the outside of the field of play, is another highlight of the campus.
“Prior, I don't think we were much of an attraction for the better student-athlete, but with the new facility we're seeing it big time,” he said. “We're seeing a huge increase in the number of kids and parents that are interested in coming.”