Michael Roos was at the apex of his professional career with the Tennessee Titans when the prospect of a revamped Eastern Washington football field came to fruition.
Roos, an All-American offensive tackle at EWU, was coming off a Pro Bowl 2008 season when he met with EWU officials in Nashville to discuss the particulars about donating to the project that would ultimately bare his namesake: Roos Field.
He cut a $500,000 check knowing his alma mater was about to distinguish itself in the world of college football.
A bright-red turf field has a way of doing that.
“If you’re going to do something big, why not do something recognizable?” Roos said of the famed turf that was installed 10 years ago.
Winning the program’s first national championship months after the “Inferno” installation was also a major identifier.
A confluence of the rare field and Football Championship Subdivision title run to a national audience has since boosted the program “from good to great,” Roos said.
EWU is the third-winningest FCS team of the 2010s (97 wins), with six postseason berths, three semifinal finishes and two trips to the national title game.
The Eagles, who have 13 straight winning seasons, have won 55 of their 65 home games in that stretch, including a 13-4 postseason home record.
“I don’t know if it was a coincidence that all that success came when the red turf started,” Roos said. “Or if that was the one extra thing the program needed to make that next step.”
The same turf installed a decade ago was recently pulled from the Cheney stadium and cut into pieces to be sold to fans who want a piece of EWU history.
New red turf will be laid down this month.
EWU brings a school-record 14-game home winning streak into a 2020 season that remains in limbo due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the past 10 years, EWU has produced All-Americans and professional football prospects at a regular clip and has established itself as one of the country’s electric offenses, annually ranking at or near the top in points and yards.
Roos believes a combination of EWU’s production and nationally known field have been the key selling points on the recruiting trail.
“That was always the goal,” Roos said. “Being red, an identity for the region, school and program. You see the turf, all the points they score and the culture.”
Roos played at EWU from 2000-2004 for coach Paul Wulff – current EWU coach Aaron Best was Roos’ offensive line coach – winning a Big Sky Conference title in 2004.
He was the 41st overall pick by the Titans in 2005 draft and retired after the 2014 seasons.
EWU has won eight Big Sky titles in the 2000s, six in the red turf era.
Roos doesn’t take credit for the idea of the red turf but was happy to his part to make it happen.
“It felt like the right thing to do,” Roos said. “I wouldn’t have been where I was (in the NFL) if it wasn’t for Eastern, so it was a way of giving back.”
Roos, who lives in Nashville, has annually attended EWU games and watches most of the Eagles’ streamed games at his home.
Football fans in the South are now familiar with EWU, he said.
“Sometimes they’ll say ‘EWU, that’s the team with the hideous red field,’ ” Roos Field. I say ‘Yup, that’s it.’ ”
Boise State was the first college football program to have an unconventional field color, with a blue field in 1986. NCAA Division II New Haven was second, installing blue turf of its own in 2009.
More NCAA schools went the unconventional route.
After EWU installed its red turf in 2010, Central Arkansas installed a purple-and-gray field in 2011 that alternates colors every five yards. Lindenwood (Illinois) installed a field in 2012 that alternated red and gray every five yards. Eastern Michigan went with gray turf in 2014. Coastal Carolina put in teal “Surf Turf” in 2015, and Luther College (Iowa) installed blue turf in 2017.
High schools around the country have since followed EWU’s lead with red turf, including Canyon High School (New Braunfels, Texas), St. Mary’s Prep (Orchard Lake, Michigan), Valley View High School (Moreno, California and Edgewood High School (Ellettsville, Indiana).
“I’m glad we did it,” Roos said. “Now I get to sit back on a Saturday, grab a beer and see it on Big Sky TV. It wasn’t like that when I played.”
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