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Eagles see red: Colorful field should be ready in September
When Michael Roos and his wife, Katherine, first pledged $500,000 to jump start Eastern Washington University’s Red Turf Project, they expected the process of replacing Woodward Field’s grass playing surface to evolve in a timely fashion.
But after taking part in Saturday’s “turf-breaking” ceremonies at his former home field in Cheney, Michael Roos admitted he was stunned by the project’s accelerated timetable.
“When you make the kind of monetary commitment, you hope and expect that it will eventually come together and that you’ve generated enough momentum to get everybody else on board,” Roos said after joining university president Rodolfo Arévalo and Rob Nelson, the vice chairman of EWU’s Foundation Board of Directors, in excavating the first three shovelfuls of grass from Woodward’s existing playing surface.
“But I’m amazed at how much money they’ve managed to raise in a matter of six months,” Roos said. “And I’m hoping it will keep going and we’ll be able to get the new scoreboard, too.”
Roos, a former All-American offensive lineman at Eastern and a current all-pro left tackle for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, was among several dignitaries on hand for Saturday’s ceremony, which marked the official start of the construction phase of the Red Turf Project.
Installation of the new red playing surface, which will be the first of its kind in the country, is expected to be completed by early September – in plenty of time for the Eagles to host Big Sky Conference rival Montana on Sept. 18 in a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision showdown that could generate national interest.
The excavation of Woodward Field’s natural grass will begin in earnest on Monday. Plans call for the removal of 18 inches of existing sod and dirt before the preparation work, which includes a sophisticated drainage system and 12 inches of granular sand covered by a coating of gravel, can start. The entire project, which could also include a new scoreboard if enough additional money can be raised, is expected to take about eight weeks, and once it is completed, the facility will be renamed Roos Field.
Marc Hughes, EWU’s associate athletic director for development, and the person who first approached the Rooses about helping to fund the Red Turf Project, said their initial gift gave the university the charge it needed to raise more than $1 million for Woodward Field improvements.
“After their initial pledge, I was able to tell the Eagle Nation about the red turf and how much Montana fans hate it,” Hughes said. “And almost every donor who heard that said, ‘I’m in!’”
Joining the Roos family among the major contributors to the project are former EWU student and ESPN national radio and television personality Colin Cowherd; former Eagles letterwinner Tim Bradbury, who is now president of New Media for American City Business Journals; and former Eastern quarterback and assistant coach Jim McElwain, who is now the offensive coordinator for the University of Alabama.
Beau Baldwin, who will start his third season as EWU’s head football coach this fall, also attended Saturday’s turf-breaking ceremonies and expressed his gratitude for the donations made to the project.
“When I first heard about it, I was obviously excited,” Baldwin said. “But no matter how hard people work, you were never sure it was going to be able to happen by next fall. The fact that it is speaks volumes for those who helped get it done.
“And to be here on this day, to celebrate the groundbreaking, is extremely exciting.”
Roos, while not as jacked up about Montana’s hatred of the red turf as Hughes, did admit that part of his motivation was to give his alma mater an edge over visiting opponents.
“Of course, any time you do something to alter the mental state of the opponent, it’s a good thing,” he said “I know people were thrown off and felt different when Boise State put its blue turf in, and, hopefully, our new red turf will have enough shock factor to throw off opponents, as well.”
By Steve Bergum