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The Bismarck Tribune

 

CHENEY, Wash. — It's red. Not just red, but really, really red. It is such a bright red that Roos Field at Eastern Washington University should have its own color.

Roos Red. If the light hits it just right during game day — like it did on a late December afternoon in 2010 — it almost gives the few blocks of Cheney, Wash., around the football field a red glow hue.

When the university gave the go-ahead for the red SprinTurf, it went all-in on the color. EWU alum and former NFL All-Pro Michael Roos donated $500,000 and the result was getting the stadium renamed after him. The results since that day have been noticeable, both with the team and the notoriety of having a color of field nobody else has in the country.

"It's a very unique field, you get a lot of people that think it's unique," said Dave Cook, the school's sports information director. "It's been a great thing for our university."

It was a great thing for the football program, but more because of the type of surface. An up-tempo, spread offense that puts a premium on speed, the artificial turf played right into the philosophy of former head coach Beau Baldwin, who took over the head coaching position in 2008.

The Eagles went 6-5 and 8-4 in Baldwin's first two seasons, but once the red turf came into vogue, so did the team. And it didn't hurt it had running back Taiwan Jones, a speedster who was made for turf.

The Bison found that out in the 2010 playoff game when Jones had 230 yards rushing before leaving the game with an injury.

"That year it was more important getting Taiwan on turf instead of grass," Cook said. "It's a surface you can practice on year-around, too. Probably the benefits of the red have been marketing, but the benefit of the turf has really changed the program in a lot of ways."

Really, the color is eye-changing at first sight, but that's about it. Bison defensive line coach Nick Goeser remembers first walking onto the red turf the day of the 2010 playoff game.

"When you first get out there, it's hard on the eyes the first couple of steps," he said. "But when it comes down to it, you're playing on a football field. It's a 100-yard field and the same old, same old. It's a tough place to play."

And that's the general theory on the uniqueness of it. Once you get used to it, it's like any other field. The players don't notice it much because at field level, you're looking horizontal all game — not down at the turf.

That's not the case for those in the press box like Cook and sportswriter Jim Allen of The Spokesman-Review newspaper, who's covered the team since 2011.

"You have to get used to it," Allen said. "It doesn't bother me. Fans have never complained about it, and I think they view it as something to be known for. I know there are constant comments from rival fans, but so what?"

Goeser said the Bison players see it all week on film, so it's not like it will be a surprise when they arrive at the stadium late Saturday morning. They saw it on film last year, too, in the week leading up to the Eastern Washington game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

It will be NDSU's first trip back to the red turf since that fateful FCS quarterfinal playoff game in 2010, when the Eagles won 38-31 in overtime. It featured a controversial ending when a loose ball by NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen near the EWU goal line was ruled a fumble and the Eagles recovered, thus ending the game.

There was talk about it by some Bison players before last year's game - the first since the 2010 clash. Goeser is the only current coach on staff who was a part of the 2010 team.

"I doubt they'll say a whole lot about it this year," Goeser said of his players earlier this week. "I know last year they asked me a little bit about it and what I remember. They wanted to know what happened, the dynamics, the locker room, the turf and all that stuff. But it's not a big deal - it was so long ago it seems and we've moved on. It's a new team, new program and new coaches."

At its inception, Eastern Washington was the third school in the country to install an alternate-color field. Boise State, of course, was the first with its all-blue look. There are now seven with the latest being Coastal Carolina going to all-teal turf in 2015.

The only other FCS school is Central Arkansas, which has alternate gray and purple turf every five yards.

But on game day, it's just football for the players.

"It's just another field," said Bison linebacker Nick DeLuca. "Honestly, green, red, it doesn't matter. It's all the same."

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