Steven Prusia hatched the plan somewhere outside of San Jose, Calif.
He rolled the newborn idea around in his mind as he steered his big rig east. He brainstormed for hour after hour, state after state, as he barreled down Interstate 80 toward home.
By the time he reached his gravel driveway in rural Mills County, Iowa, he was sure.
The middle-aged long-haul trucker climbed out of his semi and stared at his yard.
I'm gonna build a football field, he thought. I'm gonna build a football field right here.
“Why? I didn't think that,” Steve says. “I just thought 'Why not?' ”
Four years later, I step onto Steve Prusia's very own football field.
The fescue has survived the hard summer heat and is greener than many high school fields. The goal posts creak in the late-summer wind; they have survived lashing rain and gale-force winds.
A cornfield bumps right up to the east sideline, so close that if a kicker hooks a field-goal attempt, you have to climb into the cornstalks to retrieve the ball. So close that you find yourself wondering if the Ghost of Bronko Nagurski is going to wander out onto this Football Field of Dreams in western Iowa just as Shoeless Joe did in the Costner baseball movie made in eastern Iowa.
Is this heaven?
Not unless heaven smells like dried sweat and mulch. And not unless St. Peter is in fact a 52-year-old trucker who used to race stock cars and now owns a semi-pro football team he named the Mills County Militia.
Steve motions to the north end zone.
“We're moving back that dasher fence,” he says, pointing to a wood fence that separates the end zone from a grain bin and the spot where Steve parks his semi. Steve's nephew Nate is, in fact, tearing down said fence right now.
“See that hole?” Steve says, pointing to a missing chunk of the dasher fence. “A kid from Junction City put his helmet through it last year.”
So, no, this place is not evening mist and magic and big speeches about baseball made by James Earl Jones.
This place is grass stains and violence and sitting in the rickety bleachers and watching as a kid from Junction City, Kan., runs through the end zone so hard that he rams headfirst into the dasher fence.
This is football.
It started, fittingly enough, with dirt. Steve hired a construction company that dug six truckloads out of the ground and moved it off the property. In its place they sculpted a 50-yard-long football field that is flat at first glance but actually slightly sloped, to promote runoff.
After that, Steve thought about covering the field with artificial turf. He got an estimate: $108,000.
He decided to plant grass instead. On a trucking job through the Northwest, he stopped in Oregon and picked up 300 pounds of grass seed. It is the same type of fescue you will find on some NFL fields, he says. He drove it back to his yard. He planted it in the late spring of 2010.
“By the fall, it looked beautiful,” he says.
He built the goal posts out of PVC pipe and glue. He built the bleachers out of metal and wood. He got the proper permits, bought insurance, and forked over $2,800 for a public address system.
And — oh, yeah — he founded the Mills County Militia, which plays in the Central Plains Football League. It's 8-man football on a 50-yard field played by men in their 20s and 30s who aren't paid and sometimes drive themselves to road games.
The Militia played their first home game at Steve's house in the spring of 2011. Steve's brother Scott served as head coach. His sister Staci, a nurse, volunteered as the head trainer. Nephews and nieces worked as security guards and water boys. They retrieved wayward footballs from the cornfield.
Steve had built it, and they did come. Well, kind of: 50 fans for some games, 100 for others.
The Militia struggled in 2011. But then in 2012, they rode a stifling defense to a league championship. Steve got so excited, he wrote a book: “36 Months to Glory.”
Chapter 5 is titled “Our Own Field.”
The Militia will be back for their fourth season next March — the Central Plains Football League plays its season in the spring — so in the late summer and the fall, the field sits mostly empty.
“Sometimes people just pull up and want to look around,” Steve says. “I say 'Sure.' ”
Sometimes, on days like today, they bring a football.
Soon Matt Miller — the excellent photographer who took the amazing photos that accompany this column — and I are playing catch. Actually, Matt is playing catch. I find myself running routes, 10-yard ins and five-yard outs and fly patterns toward the end zone. I haul in passes. I pant. I catch myself smiling.
As I catch my breath, I ask Steve if he ever uses the field for anything else. Why, as a matter of fact, yes, he says.
Sometime soon he and his fiancée, Carri McAdams, will get married in the side yard. And then they will come around front, to the football field, and they will hold their wedding reception.
It is his football field, after all. He can do the Chicken Dance all night if he wants.