DENVER, Colo. — The same feathery soft hands that once caught touchdown passes for the Piqua High School football team would go on to move metric tons of dirt and sod as one of the nation’s premier sports turf authorities.
And now, one of those hands is being fitted for a Super Bowl ring.
“It’s been pretty incredible — it’s like a dream come true for me,” said Piqua High School graduate Brooks Dodson, Director of Sports Turf and Grounds for the Denver Broncos. “Since I came back to the team in April of 2013, the team has been to two Super Bowls and obviously won the last one. I do get an official Super Bowl ring and I get to travel with the team, since I’m considered part of game-day operations.”
Dodson is in charge of the upkeep and maintenance of the playing fields and grounds at the Broncos’ training facility. He’s also the primary consultant for the playing surface at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where the Broncos play their home games.
“We have 26 acres on our entire training facility,” Dodson said. “I’m in charge of the staff that takes care of everything from snow removal to mowing grass to planting trees. Everything you see at the training facility is something my staff and I are in charge of taking care of. We are also in charge of three natural grass fields at the facility. I’ve got a couple of $100 million football players coming out on my fields five or six days a week.”
That much of Dodson’s adult life has been spent on playing fields should come as no surprise — they are, after all, where he grew up. Dodson was a standout football and baseball player for the Indians in the early 1990s — he’s likely best-remembered as the receiver/defensive back with the perpetually untucked T-shirt hanging out from below his jersey who helped lead the Indians to multiple Division I state semifinal appearances.
Following his stellar athletic career at Piqua, Dodson would go on to play baseball at the University of Toledo. A broken hand suffered during a game ultimately cost Dodson his scholarship, however, and he would end up transferring to The Ohio State University.
Soon after transferring, a cursory glance at Ohio State’s school newspaper, The Lantern, would forever change Dodson’s life.
“After I got hurt and lost my scholarship, I transferred to Ohio State. I was a blue collar kid; my dad told me I had better get a job,” Dodson said. “I threw open The Lantern and the first thing I see is an ad for Worthington Hills Country Club. It was a chance to do landscaping work and play free golf. I had done landscaping work before for summer jobs and who could pass up the chance to play free golf?
“I was really lucky. The head groundskeeper there, who had been a varsity wrestler at Ohio State, kind of took me under his wing. One day he asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him that I wanted to teach and coach after I graduated. He told me, ‘This stuff really makes sense to you. It’s something you should look into.’ I guess my life really changed after he told me that.”
Dodson would eventually become an agronomy major, specializing in sports turf management. In 1997, he was selected for a prestigious internship that took him to the United Kingdom, where he was afforded the opportunity to work on some of Europe’s historic golf courses. He designed one of the course improvements that was incorporated into the Royal Troon Golf Club for the 1997 British Open.
Following his internship, Dodson would return to Ohio State, where he planned to graduate and eventually pursue his doctorate. Once again, however, fate stepped in and he was offered the opportunity to work for the Denver Broncos, an opportunity he could not refuse.
He would spend several years working for the Broncos before branching out and starting his own company, Homefield Advantage, which specialized in golf course and athletic field renovations and turf installations.
“Eventually when the economy went bad, the market kind of dried up and I ended up selling the company,” Dodson said.
As Dodson was sitting in a car wash soon after, however, he would get a phone call from his former boss with the Broncos, who had become vice president of operations, asking him to come back in the position Dodson holds today. Dodson lives in Colorado with his wife, Joy, and their three children: Ryne, Lydia and Brice.
In addition to maintaining the grounds at the training facility, he’s with the team for every game, whether the Broncos are at home or on the road. While Dodson works hard, however, he admits there are plenty of perks — incuding the aforementioned Super Bowl ring — of working for an NFL team.
“I’m considered a part of the football operations staff; I’m out with the team for every practice,” he said. “I also help out the equipment staff — we get to throw tons of footballs with the team. I spend all of my time with the defensive backs and get to do a lot of drills with the safeties.
“I’m still out there running around and catching footballs. When Peyton Manning was going through his rehab this season, my name got thrown out by him in the media a couple of times. When he was throwing on the side, a lot of times I was the guy he was throwing to.”
Just like old times.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong