The sun rise illuminates the stands at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on the morning of Nov. 6, 2021. Photo by HG Biggs.

The scene opens on a quiet campus. It is the Friday before the Arkansas homecoming game and  the only light stems from the faint street lamps. A distant rumbling echoes through the Circle as the clock strikes 3:40 a.m. It’s the university landscaping morning crew.

The quiet calm of morning does not last for much longer. The slap of wooden boards hitting the ground rings through the air, a precautionary measure to prevent damage to the asphalt from the game day dumpsters. Flatbed stretch trucks pull past the desired drop location and are then put into reverse as a worker lines up the dumpster with the wooden planks. The dumpster is slowly lowered down at a 45-degree angle until it slides into place. 

Once the dumpsters are securely placed on the wooden planks, the rattling of trash cans can be heard in the distance. Stacked 20-by-7, the trash cans are carefully turned over, divided and walked over to another truck. There, workers intricately place the trash cans in a spiral formation, making sure not to tip the cans over. The trucks weave around the Circle, making sure the entirety of the area is covered in a sea of red and blue trash cans.

“Typically we have three tractors and on the tractors, there are 20-foot trailers,” Nathan Lazinsky, the superintendent of landscape services said. “There are two guys on the back of the trailers…we modified those trailers so that there is a catwalk where you serve barrels, each one of the trailers has about 300 cans.” 

In total, 2,600 trash cans were placed for the Arkansas game.

A volunteer begins assembling recycling bags, as the sun rises on the morning of Friday, Oct. 8. Photo by HG Biggs.

After the Circle is filled with trash cans, it is time to transition to the Grove. The golf carts transport the remaining stacks of trash cans and begin laying them in the same spiral formation between the freshly painted lines from the day prior.

“When people see those trash cans go out, they get excited. You’d never think that people get excited about trash,” Lazinsky said. 

At the end of game day weekend, the landscaping crew and some volunteer groups — the Baptist Student Union, Navy ROTC and Luckyday Scholars for this game —  pick up the majority of the trash in cans and on the ground. Typically Saturday night clean-up begins at midnight. However, since Arkansas is an 11 a.m. kickoff, crews will begin at 7 p.m. 

Sunday morning, Lafayette High School softball and basketball teams will help clean up trash in the South Oxford Campus parking garage and at Northwest Community College. 

“They’ll clean those parking lots and come onto campus,” Lazinsky said. “What they do is they go around and pick up loose trash on the perimeter of campus, and the basketball team washes out all the barrels, so we use tractors on Sunday morning to haul the cans over to the east stadium parking lot and wash them off,  and they will stack them back on these custom-built trailers.” 

The trash cans are then stored on the trailers, where they will stay until the next home game. 

While football season is a demanding time for the Ole Miss landscaping crew, their duties do not solely align with the football schedule. Once the final home game takes place, the landscaping crew then begins to germinate the ground for the next season. They start by punching holes in the ground for oxygen and water penetration. 

“During the football season, everybody is walking on (the ground), and especially when it rains, it packs the soil down,” Lazinsky said, “It squeezes all the air out and makes it to where water and everything will not go into it.” 

The lack of water reaching the soil is not a conducive environment for trees or grass roots to grow. After punching holes in the ground, they create a seedbed and pray for warm weather so everything will germinate by Christmas. Their work for the season is still not over. Once the ground is germinated, trash cans are washed and counted to see how many should be purchased for next season. The trash cans are then stored in two green sheds on Manning Way. The crew will then hold meetings to discuss what can be improved. 

Two workers set up a tent in the Grove on Friday, Sept. 10 prior to Ole Miss's first home game against Austin Peay. Photo by HG Biggs.
A young girl waves toward the Ole Miss band in the Grove. Photo by HG Biggs.

After concluding work for football season and taking measures to fix the damage done to the Grove — laying down straw and rehabilitating the ground — it is time for the crew to begin beautifying the campus.

Prior to the start of spring, the landscaping crew plants 20,000 tulips and 10,000 daffodils. On average, the crew plants around 50,000 seasonal colored plants each year. 

Lazinsky and the landscaping crew pride themselves on being one of America’s most beautiful campuses. 

“We have a culture built up where everybody is proud of the way the campus looks,” Lazinsky said. “We have a weird outlook that a student might come up with a cure for cancer or be the next president. In a crazy way, the way we look at it, if we recruited them here we have a little part in that.”

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