All-America running back Taiwan Jones agrees with the EWU slogan, ‘Red is the New Green’
Taiwan Jones likes the color, but at this point in the season -- less than a week away from the first game of the year -- he’s color blind.
The Eastern Washington University All-America running back and his teammates got a chance to practice for the first time Friday afternoon (Aug. 27) on Eastern’s new red Sprinturf field at soon to be re-named Woodward Field on the EWU campus in Cheney, Wash. Thanks to a $500,000 pledge made to the project by former Eagle and current Tennessee Titan Michael Roos and his wife Katherine, the field will officially be re-named Roos Field in a ceremony on Sept. 16.
Jones has more reasons than most to be excited for the new surface. Last year as a sophomore, he averaged 6.1 yards at home on grass and 8.2 in Eastern’s other eight games that included seven artificial surfaces as well as one grass field at Sacramento State with excellent footing.
“So far it’s just like green to me,” Jones said as EWU continued preparations for Eastern’s opener at Nevada on Thursday (Sept. 2). “We’re all excited that it’s red, but I think more people are jacked about the fact it’s game week.”
Amidst giggles and gawking, Eastern players gave the field rave reviews. “Red is the New Green,” is a slogan Eastern has been using for months now, and Friday it lived up to the hype.
“In a way we’re kind of still in shock -- we can’t believe it’s really here,” said Jones’ backup, junior Darriell Beaumonte. “We heard about it and saw all the hype for it, but this is the first time on it. We’re pumped.”
“It’s definitely red -- it looks good and it’s sharp,” said senior tight end and co-captain Matt Martin. “It’s exciting for our program and exciting for us to get out on the Sprinturf finally. It’s a better surface for playing on and for the fans it’s really cool too.”
Beaumonte, who as a running back continually gets tackled to the ground, saw another reason to like the surface, which includes millions of rubber pellets that provide the cushioning in the synthetic turf.
“It’s soft -- it’s like a pillow,” he said. “I like it. And it’s the only red one in the country -- you can’t beat that.”
For Martin, who played his high school football in a farming community in Eastern Washington, the field was a huge upgrade from what he’s played on previously in his career. However, he points out the surface is only as important as the number of wins on it. He should know. His team never lost at home -- or lost, period. La Crosse-Washtucna High School won four-straight State B-8 championships and was a perfect 48-0 in his four seasons at the school.
“It’s a little bit nicer -- maybe -- it’s certainly not quite the cow pasture we were used to,” he laughed. “But that field was nice too because there were a lot of wins on it. We’ll take it either way.”
Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin watched as the team -- as early as 1 1/2 hours before practice was scheduled to start -- tested out the new turf.
“They are like a bunch of kids on Christmas morning,” he said. “The initial excitement will wear off a little bit, but what won’t wear off is the fact it’s a great surface and the home field advantage it gives us. They’re giggling and its fun today, but now it’s time where we get geared toward game week and what we have to do against Nevada.”
The advantage the turf gives Eastern isn’t lost on Baldwin and his players.
“Our team is built around speed with playmakers flying around to the football and making plays all over the field,” Martin said. “It’s something we pride ourselves on and I think the turf plays to our attributes.”
Added Beaumonte: “It’s going to make everything a lot faster and our cuts a lot cleaner. All we need is a little bit of space and we can make it happen.”
“It fits some of our talent,” explained Baldwin, who enters his third year as Eastern’s head coach and seventh overall in Cheney. “Strategically we’ve prepared for turf games before over the years, but those were all on the road. More than anything it fits what we are all about and the strengths of some of skill players. Hopefully is becomes a real home field advantage for us.”
That advantage includes the talents of Jones, who rushed for 1,213 yards and had 14 plays of at least 38 yards in 2009. He scored on an 87-yard run on his first carry as an Eagle running back last season, and has had touchdown plays of 96, 93, and 80 yards in his career.
“We call him quick-fast,” said Beaumonte. “All he needs is two moves -- boom-boom -- and he’s out of there. So now that he has this to play on, look for even greater things out of him.”
“I’m so glad to be an Eastern Eagle,” said Jones. “When I was getting recruited all the older players were talking about getting a turf field. And to be the first team to play on it is an amazing experience.”
Eastern will play twice before actually playing a game on the red turf. That debut will be Sept. 18 when powerhouse Montana visits for a game that begins at 4:05 p.m. Pacific time. The Grizzlies have won or shared the last 12 Big Sky Conference titles.
“You couldn’t write the script any better,” said Baldwin. “Obviously we’re not talking about that game right now, but when we get to that game it will be less about the fact we are playing Montana on the red turf and more about how we can beat them. That’s a challenge for every team in this league because it doesn’t happen very often.”
The fun on the field Friday didn’t end with the players and coaches. Marc Hughes, Eastern’s associate athletic director for development, helped spearhead the fundraising needing for the $825,000 price tag for the field. Although Hughes passes the credit to Michael and Katherine Roos for their initial $500,000 pledge toward the project, Baldwin wanted to make sure he acknowledged Hughes on the first day the field was used.
Baldwin, a former quarterback at Central Washington, tossed a perfect post route pass to Hughes at midfield on the Eagle logo. The pass was dropped, but Baldwin points out that Hughes didn’t drop the ball during the past 8 1/2 months as the project became a reality.
“We wanted to let Marc get to run the first official route on the red turf in front of the team,” said Baldwin. “The work a lot of people did was impressive, but this project couldn’t have been completed without him -- there’s no doubt about that. We all owe him a big thank you for the work he put in, especially to get it done as fast as it was done.”