Episcopal School met Jacksonville Jaguars' temporary training camp needs

2022-07-30 17:48:20 By : Mr. Devin He

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a history with the Episcopal School of Jacksonville. 

Episcopal came to the rescue in 2015 when Gus Bradley was the Jags' coach and needed to practice there one day because of persistent rain during training camp.

The team's indoor facility wasn't yet ready and the Jaguars were able to use the school's Jangro Stadium at the Munnerlyn Campus. 

In addition, Episcopal has hosted visiting teams who used the stadium for walk-throughs the day before games at TIAA Bank Field.

Gallery: Scenes from the start of the Jaguars 2022 training camp

Making the move: Practice field construction forces Jaguars to alter training camp plans for upcoming season

But director of athletics Andy Kidd got a phone call from Jaguars director of operations Hamzah Ahmad in September of 2021 with a much bigger ask: would Episcopal consider hosting the Jaguars for the entirety of the 2022 training camp, which would consist of 14 practices spanning a period of 24 days? 

The Jaguars were to begin construction on their $120 million Miller Electric Center, which would include a dedicated building for training, conditioning, staff and locker rooms. But it wouldn't come close to being finished before the beginning of the 2022 training camp. 

And this was different from one practice near the end of the 2015 camp. The Jaguars needed two regulation-sized football fields side-by-side and enough room for other drills requiring huge blocking sleds and tackling dummies and an area for cooling down and treatment of minor injuries. 

Kidd said Episcopal's main campus wouldn't fit that bill. But just a few miles east was the school’s Knight Campus, a 28-acre property and the home of the Episcopal’s soccer, lacrosse, beach volleyball, tennis, cross country and crew teams. 

Ahmad made a visit, took one look and realized quickly that the solution was right there, just across the Hart Bridge. 

"It made the most sense," he said, referring to proximity to the stadium and infrastructure already in place. 

They found their summer home.

The Jaguars were able to practice on the TIAA Bank Field and the indoor facility during OTAs and minicamp but didn't want to put any more wear and tear on the stadium turf than was necessary before the season began.

Ahmad said the team looked at several other sites but quickly came to the realization that the Knight Campus met their needs. Through five practices as of Saturday, the logistics of moving 90 players and more than 100 coaches, and equipment and training staff across the St. Johns River every day has been as efficient as anyone on either side dared to hope. 

"The fields are in great shape," Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. "We're looking forward to spending the next few weeks over here at Episcopal and thanking them for this opportunity. Seeing it come together, it's been a fun summer to watch the progression of everything."

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence said once the team arrives on one of the four buses required to get them there (a 10-minute drive with a police escort, for a 3.9-mile trip), it's as if they were still back at their usual place of work. 

After all, 100 yards by 53 yards is the same pretty much anywhere, isn't it? 

But drainage, water, power, shelter in case of storms and room to work still matters. 

And Episcopal has provided all of those conditions. 

"It's nice out here, a change of scenery," Lawrence said. "The fields are great ... they did a great job setting them up. You've got a little time on the transport over here to get your mind ready for practice. I think that's great." 

The team's final practice at the Knight Campus is scheduled for Aug. 18, and after a combined team practice with the Atlanta Falcons in Flowery Branch, Ga., Aug. 24-25 and a game against the Falcons on Aug. 27, the Jags will return to TIAA Bank Field.

The only drawback: Because there is limited parking and space, none of the training camp sessions have been open to the public. The only chance for Jaguars fans to see the team before the regular-season opener on Sept. 18 are the two home preseason games Aug. 12 against the Browns and Aug. 20 against the Steelers.

Some NFL teams still venture outside their home city for training camp, but with accommodations for players and staff close at hand. The issue of traveling to and from practice can be tricky, because the Collective Bargaining Agreement restricts players to an 11-hour day during training camp. 

There are meetings, film sessions, conditioning and recovery, meals and did someone mention meetings? 

"You have to factor in travel and it takes up either practice time, meeting time, whatever you can do," Pederson said. "You have to work out some of those kinks. We had a great team of guys ... did a lot of research on it, drove back and forth in the spring just to see how long the drive was going to be and how long it would take us." 

Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke personally made the drive several times to see for themselves. 

The Jaguars also get a police escort. On the first day the travel party got held up by one red light but it's been pretty smooth since

"We appreciate the police department giving us escorts," Pederson said. "That helps maximize the time on the field." 

Other than travel time, the main issue with the move was the turf on the two fields. Although it was well-maintained by the Episcopal staff under facilities coordinator Tim Allen and grounds supervisor Bernie Hurley, the grass had to be up to the standards required for an NFL team. 

The Jaguars paid for 189,000 square feet of sod, purchased from a farm that specializes in athletic turf. Under the supervision of Mark Clay, the sports field manager for SMG (which manages TIAA Bank Field) and his assistant, Nick Fedewa, the existing grass was stripped and the new sod laid within 24 hours in June. 

Less than two months later, it looks like it's been there and been lovingly cultivated for years. 

"The old turf was as good as anything you'd find for a high school stadium," Kidd said. "But we understood that the Jaguars needed something to NFL standards. The great news is after they leave, our student-athletes will have that kind of playing surface." 

Pederson took one look at the turf a week before training camp and said he couldn't tell the difference between that and the grass at TIAA Bank Field. 

The facility has 24-hour security, so the Jaguars can leave much of the heavy equipment there. The team even installed a small device attached to a pole that detects lightning coming close to the area. 

Goalposts from the old practice field were brought in. The Jaguars also paid for temporary structures such as a viewing area for media, team staff, player and coach families and VIPs, a shaded news conference area and a treatment area. 

Episcopal hasn’t had to pay a dime. Ahmad declined to say how much the move cost the Jaguars. 

"It really was a turnkey operation," Kidd said. 

Relocating to Episcopal also has its benefits from a community relations standpoint. The Jaguars could have gone almost anywhere but decided to stay within the Duval boundary. 

"This is using our local resources," Ahmad said. "Episcopal has been a great host, working with them to have access to this area and essentially taking it over." 

And Kidd said Episcopal gets to be known as the Jags' home away from home. 

"Hey, we're one of 32 places in the country to have an NFL team for training camp," Kidd said. "When we were approached by Hamza and asked if this would be a possibility, I talked to [Rev.] Adam Greene, our head of school, and he said, 'we've got to make this happen ... we've got to support our local team. It's the right thing to do.'" 

Contact Garry Smits at gsmits@gannett.com

scrollTo(duration=200)" class="scrollToTop">Top