ORONO, Maine - It hasn’ t taken long for the University of Maine’ s football players to embrace the new FieldTurf surface on their Morse Field in Alfond Stadium.
The Black Bears had spent the previous 10 years on an AstroTurf surface and, in recent years, the surface has eroded.
The FieldTurf is one of several facility upgrades that have a total cost of $2.2 million. A $1 million gift from Phil and Susan Morse, after whom Morse Field is named, jumpstarted the improvements.
In 1998, the Morses donated $2.15 million for the playing surface, scoreboard and lights.
“This turf is beautiful. It’ s a big upgrade,” said Maine senior right guard Chris Arnao. “It’ s a lot easier on your joints. The seams were coming apart on the old turf. You could actually pull it up.”
“The old turf was like concrete,” said senior linebacker Andrew Downey. “The new turf is incredible. It’ s much better for your body. Guys were afraid they were going to get hurt on the old turf and that takes away from the football [focus].
“It makes the whole team, the whole program and the whole process of Maine football better,” added Downey.
Senior tailback Jhamal Fluellen called it a “beautiful thing” and said when they started installing the FieldTurf, “it put a big smile on everybody’ s face.
“The old turf became real bad. When you’ d fall on it, it would burn your skin off,” said Fluellen. “This surface is nothing like that.”
Fluellen also said when they played on cold days, the old turf became “even harder.”
Senior defensive end Jovan Belcher said rain made it worse, too.
“We might as well have played in the parking lot,” said Belcher.
Belcher said the FieldTurf surface is “a lot faster and a lot easier on your knees. And when you make a tackle, it’ s a lot easier to fall on it. You don’ t rip your skin off.
“This is the best thing we’ ve received since I’ ve been here. We needed it,” he added.
Fluellen said players will be able to cut more effectively and generate more speed.
“It’ s going to help [in those areas] a lot,” said Fluellen.
The players said the new surface will be a valuable recruiting tool.
“Every time we get something new, you can tell recruits ‘ Look what we have here and what we plan on doing [more improvements] down the road.’ When you see things happen here, it changes the face of Maine football and that’ s always a positive for any program,” said Arnao.
Fluellen said it will “light up recruits’ eyes. They would get turned off by the old stuff.”
Sixteenth-year Maine coach Jack Cosgrove called it a “godsend in a lot of ways.
“We’ re blessed to have it. We’ re very grateful to Phil Morse and the people who made it happen,” said Cosgrove. “Football has a way of being a mean-spirited game and injuries are a major part of it.
“It’ s very important in managing young people in athletics to keep them healthy. We’ ve got some kids who work their fannies off here and whether it was the old Astroturf surface or the grass field, there were things that led to [injury] difficulties,” said Cosgrove. “Now there’ s a good feeling mentally, a relaxed feeling because we’ re on a surface that won’ t have divots and that is forgiving and safe.”
He also stated that the new surface “makes a statement about the importance of football at Maine.”
The recruiting impact will be significant because, as Cosgrove explained, recruits place a high priority on facilities.
“In the last couple of years, we went from having one of the worst weight rooms in the conference to one of the best and one of the worst turf surfaces to the best. This is the newest FieldTurf [they make],” said Cosgrove.
He said his team will benefit from having the same type of turf as most of the teams in the Colonial Athletic Association and it will also help him schedule non-conference opponents.
Black Bear notes:Downey loves opening the season against Big Ten Division I opponent Iowa on Aug. 30. “They’ re a huge opponent and one of the most exciting things in my career is going into Nebraska, [Boston College and UConn and being hated by their fans. I loved that. The whole team is excited.”