MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Look, mom, no more owies.
OK, maybe the new artificial turf at Mountaineer Field won’t protect from broken bones, but West Virginia players are banking on its ability to save their skin.
“I like it a heck of a lot better. It’s smoother. It’s softer,” WVU wide receiver A.J. Nastasi said. “You can plant and cut without stamping into the ground and your back’s always aching. It’s a great improvement.
“I sometimes like it better than grass even. It’s exactly like grass.”
Well, the cows would have a hard time digesting this stuff, but when it comes to playing football, the shock-absorbent surface is one less thing to worry about.
The former hard artificial turf, which was installed only in 1997, often left players with scrapes — and not just the little ones that could be covered with Band-Aids.
“If you laid yourself out on the old stuff, you’d be in the shower screaming with that turf burn,” said defensive back Brian King. “It was bad, bad, bad.”
Installed this year at a cost of $476,000, the AstroPlay surface looks like grass, which technically is called a polyethylene fiber matrix.
Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina and Oklahoma State are among other schools that have had AstroPlay installed in recent years.
As with anything new, there is a sliver of skepticism. Some players are still a bit anxious about their footing and speed. Some are still trying to figure out whether to wear grass cleats or flat-bottomed sneakers.
“I’m a little more tentative, as in slipping and falling down. It’s so shiny,” said running back Avon Cobourne. “That’s just a mindset. It’s more mental than physical.”
Coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team opens the season Saturday at home against Tennessee-Chattanooga, says the turf will bring a bit of confidence. Coming off a 3-8 season, he’ll take any improvement.
“You see more guys laying out for catches, trying to make plays in practice where they would not before. Guys are not as hesitant,” he said. “It’s less abrasive, and it should make us a healthier team which should also make us better.”
Small rubber pellets are mixed in to give the surface some bounce, although the granules have yet to completely settle into the turf.
At a recent practice, the granules were everywhere. Motorized carts used by the football team left a trail of black behind. Quarterback Rasheed Marshall had to get eyedrops on the sideline to clear a speck of the stuff from his eye.