Neither Bison, Bearkats are used to natural grass fieldsFARGO — Craig Bohl has coached in some of the most prestigious college football bowl games, but none had a surface that compares to the one at FC Dallas Stadium.
By: Eric Peterson, Forum Communications Co.
FARGO — Craig Bohl has coached in some of the most prestigious college football bowl games, but none had a surface that compares to the one at FC Dallas Stadium.
“By far, this is the best field I’ve been on,” said the North Dakota State head coach, who coached in the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl while an assistant at Nebraska.
NDSU (13-1) will play for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title on that natural grass field on Jan. 7 against undefeated Sam Houston State.
Bohl and Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz both had a chance to walk on the championship game field last week when they were in Frisco, Texas, for a media tour.
“It really seems like a fantastic surface,” said Fritz, in his second season as Bearkats head coach. “They have done a great job of taking care of it.”
Both teams have played most of their games on artificial surfaces this season. The Bison played one game on natural grass, a 38-14 win at South Dakota State on Oct. 22.
“The field probably wasn’t anywhere close to the quality of field that we’ll play on in Frisco,” Bohl said.
The Bearkats (14-0) played two games on grass this season. The last time Sam Houston State played on a natural surface was Oct. 8 when they earned a 45-10 win against Stephen F. Austin, a game played at Reliant Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans NFL team.
“I think really the only time it comes into play is if there was going to be a lot of rain or if the field had gotten heavy usage prior to our ballgame,” Fritz said of natural surfaces. “It was really in pristine condition when I was there last week.”
The Bison have played on basically three different surface types this season.
r Artificial grass type surfaces that usually have an infill of rubber pellets and sand to replicate dirt or natural ground.
r Natural grass.
r The Fargodome turf, which is more like the traditional artificial turf. It doesn’t have infill and is harder than artificial grass type surfaces that use infill.
“I think it does make a difference,” Bohl said of playing on the different surfaces.
FC Dallas Stadium, which was formerly known as Pizza Hut Park, is primarily used as a soccer venue. FC Dallas of Major League Soccer is the main tenant. The grass is a tightly-cropped Bermuda hybrid named Tifway 419.
“It’s a really fast surface and it’s really strong, really well-knit so the footing is usually pretty good,” said Richard McDonald, a sports turf consultant from nearby McKinney, Texas.
“This just grabs the cleat and allows it to hold in place, not like an old Astroturf field that would tear a knee up.”
McDonald is a 1991 NDSU graduate and his firm designed the grass field system at Target Field. While the playing field at FC Dallas Stadium is mowed tight to the ground daily (similar to a bent-grass golf green), it holds together due to the way the hybrid grass grows.
“This grows and lays over and the it re-enters the ground and starts running on the ground almost like a vine,” McDonald said. “It keeps going in and out of the ground so every time you damage it and cut it that little stem that shot off to the side re-grows itself. … We always say it wears like iron compared to blue grass because it can take a lot more abuse.”
The common belief is that artificial turf plays faster than natural grass. The Frisco field, however, compares favorably to the speed of artificial grass turf with infill, McDonald said.
NDSU sophomore wide receiver Ryan Smith, from Wahpeton, is excited to play on the field.
Smith is the team’s second leading receiver with 42 catches for 502 yards, even though he’s been slowed by a hamstring injury in the playoffs. Smith, one of the faster players on the team, also plays an important role as a punt and kick returner.
“Personally, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun playing on grass again and the surface I heard is really nice,” Smith said. “I heard its really short and fast and everything so it should be really good for the receivers.”
Peterson is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.