Taiwan Jones felt faster, which has to be a bit unsettling for Eastern Washington University’s Big Sky Conference football foes.
Bo Levi Mitchell simply felt better about everything football, in general.
And Dante Calcote felt blessed.
Player reactions were all over the board Friday afternoon, when EWU’s football team – in preparation for Thursday night’s 2009 season opener against Nevada in Reno – practiced on the newly installed red Sprinturf playing surface in soon-to-be-renamed Woodward Field.
Beau Baldwin, the Eagles’ third-year head coach, weighed in as well, calling the bright, unique artificial turf “amazing.”
“First off, it’s a great surface; they did a great job of putting it down,” Baldwin said. “And as far as our players are concerned, I think it fits a lot of what our strengths are. We wanted the turf, itself, but the fact that it’s red, and looks as good as it does, has helped bring (Eastern) national attention – through TV, the internet and newspapers – that we couldn’t have paid for.”
Jones, the Eagles’ junior running back and preseason Football Championship Subdivision All-American, admitted he had sneaked onto the new turf a couple of times prior to Friday’s practice.
“But this is the first time I got to come out here in my cleats and run with my teammates, so I’m excited,” said the slender speedster and returning first-team all-BSC selection, who ran for 1,213 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall when the Eagles finished 8-4 overall and 6-2 in league play. “The difference I noticed is it feels real soft, and I’m not used to that.
“But as long as I’m not slipping, I’m happy with it. And I feel faster on it, although I haven’t got to really open up on it, yet.”
Mitchell, a first-year junior transfer from Southern Methodist and the person tabbed to start at quarterback against Nevada, feels the new turf is just another reason to want to come out and enjoy practice every day.
“I love it,” he said. “Honestly, it’s just one of those things where you feel better out here – you feel faster and you just feel better as a team, knowing you’re playing on a better surface and not just grass all the time.”
Calcote, a senior defensive back, had been hearing rumors about the university installing some kind of new playing surface since the first day he stepped on campus.
“But it always seemed to slip through the cracks,” he said. “And then, when I get in my last year, they come out of the woodwork and shock us all by getting red turf.
“I feel blessed to be among the first guys who will get to play on it.”
Following Thursday’s opener in Reno, the Eagles travel to Seattle on Sept. 11 to take on Central Washington at Qwest Field. They won’t play their first game on the new turf until hosting Big Sky rival and perennial national power Montana on Sept. 18, two days after Woodward Field is officially renamed Roos Field in honor of former Eastern standout and current Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Mike Roos and his wife, Katherine, who donated $500,000 toward the $825,000 cost of the project.
The red turf is the only one of its kind in the country and has drawn comparisons to the blue turf originally installed in Boise State’s Bronco Stadium in 1986.
Now, Baldwin and his staff are looking to further benefit from their exclusive red playing surface in much the same way as Boise State, which has the best home record (38-1) of any team in the nation the past five years.
“Boise wears blue uniforms on their blue turf,” Baldwin explained, “and it seems to work for them. We’re going to look at some different uniform options, ourselves, to see if one color gives us an advantage over another on our red surface.”
Baldwin said the offense and defense will alternate wearing red uniforms at practice in an effort to see if red-on-red makes it harder for defenders to pick out ball carriers, or harder for quarterbacks to find receivers or locate safeties on the other side of the ball.
“We’re going to change it up this week,” he said. “I told our guys I’m looking for their feedback. I want to know how it looks to their eyes and how they feel before we play our first game on it. If we can create any kind of additional home-field advantage by wearing a certain color uniform, we’re going to do it.
“Why wouldn’t we?”
The Eagles have used several different home uniform color combinations in recent years, ranging from red jerseys and black pants to all red and, in a couple of instances, all black.
Mitchell, who inherits the starting quarterback position left vacant by the graduation loss of four-year starter Matt Nichols, is looking forward to the uniform experiment.
“I think Boise wears all blue for a reason, and I think their home record speaks for itself,” he said. “So, I definitely think it’s a good idea to get the red jerseys out here and find out what they look like and whether there’s an advantage to wearing them.
“If not, let’s just go to all black and come out here and sweat.”
According to Baldwin, the Eagles could opt to wear the white jerseys they normally wear on the road.
“But I don’t see that happening,” he chuckled. “We haven’t made any final decision, yet, but there’s a good chance you’ll see us in all red. That would be my guess, if I had to guess.”