An old adage says, "The path to success is not linear." Blaise Restifo '02 knows this from experience.
After a successful four years at Saint Ignatius High School, Restifo struggled to find his calling in college, looking for his passion. As it turns out, it was a summer job at Mayfield Sand Ridge Club in South Euclid that propelled him onto his career path.
Restifo's job is in an area you might not have known about: Turf management.
Restifo's journey began at Wildcat High in 1998. The nephew of Nick Restifo Hon. '19 (Spanish teacher and Offensive Coordinator for the football program), Blaise made a name for himself as a talented and smart young man. He played a role as a running back in helping the Wildcats capture the football program's ninth state crown in 2001 as part of the proud squad that roared to six straight wins.
On and off the field, Restifo loved his time at Ignatius.
"My Ignatius experience was fantastic," says Restifo. "There are not enough words about what Ignatius provides at that age. I built so many bonds and enjoyed the camaraderie."
From Wildcat High, Restifo headed to the University of Toledo. But he did not find a match in the Glass City.
"I thought I needed to go to college," Restifo explains. "Growing grass in the turf world wasn’t my initial plan. So after two years at Toledo, I moved back home."
In 2004, Restifo returned home to attend Lakeland Community College. Not long after, he started working at South Euclid's Mayfield Sand Ridge Club. The job entailed working outside and getting his hands dirty, but Restifo enjoyed the work. The summer gig continued into the fall and the following spring. Not long after starting the job, Restifo knew this was the career for him.
Restifo sought advice from the superintendent and assistant of the course, soaking in knowledge from them. Both were graduates of Penn State University, so Restifo decided to enroll at the prominent land grant research university in the fall of 2006.
"Penn State is one of the leaders in turf/grass research," Restifo says. "You learn about golf courses, athletic fields, crops, and agriculture. They have a lot of good resources and strong ties to golf and pro football. You learn about the different ways grass is bred, chemistry, and insects that affect the grass. It's a great university with a phenomenal school and a great college atmosphere."
Restifo enjoyed the 32-week program, and utilized Penn State's connections to land a 6-month internship with the Washington Football Team between his second and third semesters.
The Clevelander enjoyed his time with Washington, later landing a full-time job with the club after graduating from Penn State in 2008. Restifo assumed the title of Assistant Sports Field Manager at Washington's training facility in Ashburn, Virginia. How's that for a first job out of college?
Restifo loved working in football at a pro level. He thrived for four years, learning the ins and outs of the industry. As most in the NFL will tell you, working in professional football can be thrilling.
But in 2012, Restifo sensed a need to round out his resume. So he took a job as the Assistant Superintendent at Belmont Country Club in Virginia.
"To anyone looking to go down this career path, I recommend working on a golf course for a couple years," Restifo says. "You see and do so much more. I had more managerial experience and used my skills in a different way. Before, I felt like I wasn’t fully utilizing everything. Golf was a huge point in my career. I had the chance to manage staff, learn chemical uses, and so much more."
The job change served him well, as he earned much-needed experience and gained new skills. And importantly, he maintained his contacts with the Washington Football Team.
In 2014, his former boss in Washington was moving on, and recommended Restifo for the job. It was too good of an opportunity for Restifo to pass up.
Once hired as Manager of Turf and Grounds for Washington's training facility, Restifo could build his own program, with an assistant and two interns. From the start, Restifo loved it and found plenty of success in the role.
"You're only as good as your staff, and I had a great staff," says Restifo. "Each year was a different challenge. We had several grow-ins and we even had to re-grow all of the fields in 10 weeks. It was a unique opportunity to build from the ground up. We had a lot of success."
After five years with Washington, Restifo's heart began calling him to the West Coast. And specifically, Stanford expressed interest in the successful young professional.
Stanford originally reached out in 2018, as the renowned California program sought him out to be a football field manager. But the process hit a speedbump and grounded to a halt.
Restifo was not deterred, remaining on the job board list and staying in touch. In September 2019, he received an email for an opening as the Director of Sports Turf for Stanford. Restifo recognized the perfect fit, reached out, and was hired just a week later.
"It was very exciting to move to the West coast," Restifo says. "I'd wanted to move west for a couple of years. Plus at Stanford, I took on a larger role. I managed seven acres with the Redskins, and now I manage 31 acres for Stanford."
For the Cardinal, Restifo employs a union staff of eight to maintain the 31 acres, consisting of 17 acres for varsity sports and 14 acres for recreational use.
"My staff of 8 guys have made the transition easy," Restifo says. "We have 100 combined years of experience on my staff. Some of the guys have been here longer than I’ve been alive. I'm learning from them and also incorporating my previous experience, and we're seeing good results."
The outbreak of COVID-19 has certainly affected everyone, including Restifo.
But that doesn't mean his work stops.
"We're in at 6 am to talk about what we want to do each day," Restifo says. "We're getting ready for football, mowing, painting, and spraying chemicals that help grass. We get next to no rain here, so moisture management is key. About two-thirds of my day is planning moisture management, including watering at night, to maintain it in tip-top shape for playing condition. You walk a fine line, because you're constantly running and cutting for each sport, so you need to make sure it's safe."
Stanford is a long ways away from Saint Ignatius, but the lessons he learned in high school stick with him.
A good, solid work ethic is something he learned at Ignatius and uses every single day.
"Saint Ignatius helped to develop who I am," Restifo says. "I wouldn’t have the same work ethic if I didn't go to Ignatius. Playing football, you understand the team aspect of being at Ignatius. Looking back, I still look at Ignatius with the same glow. I take pride in the fact that I went there, because it set me up for my future. I have nothing but positive feelings for Ignatius."
To this day, Restifo stays in touch with his classmates and keeps updated with the Wildcats.
After all, several of his classmates are doing big things at the corner of West 30th and Lorain. His classmate Dr. Anthony Fior '02 recently became principal and his teammate Ryan Franzinger '02 is the Assistant Principal for Student Discipline and the Defensive Coordinator for the Wildcats.
"It's nice to see most of the football staff still around," Restifo says. "I think the world of Ryan Franzinger. I'm not surprised one bit that he decided to go into coaching. If there was anyone who bled blue and gold, it’s that man. He's fantastic."
Restifo's former ballcoaches at Ignatius have kept tabs on him, as well. Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69 is very proud of the man and professional Restifo has developed into.
“Blaise is a great team player and teammate, he was always a fun guy to be with. He's a people person," says Coach Kyle. "He's gone on to do some wonderful things. It's an area of sports you don’t think of, and he's doing a quality job. It has blossomed into a great career for him. He's doing really well because of the work ethic that he modeled at Ignatius."