The football field at Howard Stadium has never looked better.
That's because the field isn't being used. And with Howard still uncertain where it will be playing its home games, players are shaking their heads, the coach is making jokes and the associate athletic director says, "We haven't decided anything yet."
Every day, the Bison trudge a block down Georgia Avenue to practice at Banneker High School. And today, instead of playing its home opener, Howard will be looking for its first victory of the season in Kingston, R.I., against the University of Rhode Island.
An artificial turf field that university officials said would be ready for this season is not, although in August, Carl Anderson, vice president for student affairs, said starting field construction was just a matter of ironing out a few details. Last week, Associate Athletic Director Sondra Norell-Thomas said that the school has yet to decide what type of surface will be installed.
Two weeks ago, Norrell-Thomas said finding a suitable replacement as a home field was a matter that needed to be decided within days. Last week, she said the games may be moved to Theodore Roosevelt High School, but it was not a certainty.
"I don't see why everyone is making such a big deal about where we play," said Norrell-Thomas. "I said we will play somewhere in the D.C. area and we will. I don't know why everyone is in such a panic."
The first home game now is scheduled against South Carolina State on Sept. 28.
Why not use the current field, known as the "Astro Dustbowl?"
Norrell-Thomas said that remains a possibility. Coach Willie Jeffries said that decision isn't up to him but joked about using it for practice.
"If we used our field, after the second week, the dust would be flying," Jeffries said. "We don't want to run a play in practice and then use the next play as a dust screen against our defense."
Harvey Reed, Howard's leading rusher, said, "I think we don't practice on it because they don't want anyone to think it (getting a new surface) is not going to happen. When I got back from the summer, I was real disappointed it wasn't finished. Now if we started practicing on the old field, to some people, it might mean that getting a new field was only another dream."
Sometimes it is unclear how far off is the dream.
"It is embarrassing, and it would be a disgrace if we have to play our games on a high school field," said Emory Calhoun, Howard University Student Association president. "I will still go to the games no matter where they play, but I don't think too many other students will. Dr. Anderson has constantly assured me we will have an artficial turf field, but I really think to the administration, the field is priority No. 1,000 on a list of 999 things."
The Bison were 2-8 last year and lost this year's opener in Maine, 35-12, last week. After today's game in Rhode Island, they must travel to Daytona, Fla., for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game against Bethune-Cookman.
"I just learn to accept things like this around here," said tight end Maurice Haynes, who concedes that a new weight room and slightly improved training table have helped the team. "For some of the younger guys, the traveling might be a drain."
Because of the unexpected sixth road game, available travel funds were limited for Howard's trip to Rhode Island. When asked if the Bison would be taking a plane or a bus, Jeffries resorted to a play on words saying, "We'll be taking the plain ol' bus."
Sophomore quarterback Leon Brown is scheduled to start today, but freshman Lee DuBose shared time with the first team in practice this week. DuBose runs the option much better than Brown, a natural drop-back passer . . . Freshman starting center Todd Meiklejohn will miss at least three weeks with a knee injury that the Bison hope will not require surgery. He was injured on the next-to-last play of the loss in Maine . . . Senior safety Chuck Taylor will miss today's game with a bruised shoulder.