The BGSU football team will practice on grass for the first time in years. FieldTurf is the norm for most MAC programs. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
BOWLING GREEN — There were plenty of smiles on the practice field just outside Doyt Perry Stadium as the Bowling Green State University football team held its first fall practice in preparation for the 2014 season.
“It feels great to be back on the field,” Falcons coach Dino Babers said. “Guys are walking around with smiles on their faces. Coaches are smiling. Babies are smiling. Wives are happy — because coaches are out of the house, and they own the roost again. Life is good.”
Life also is different for BG, which practiced on grass for the first time in years. In past seasons the Falcons practiced exclusively on FieldTurf, whether at the stadium during good weather or inside the school’s fieldhouse during inclement weather.
“We’re used to being inside the stadium — so being out here in the open was a little different,” senior defensive end Chuck Walker said. “I like the change. I like how we’re more spread out.”
The move to grass makes Bowling Green part of a rare breed: A football program that does not hold most of its practices on turf.
Buffalo is installing new turf at its stadium, so the Bulls will practice on grass for the first two weeks of camp. Then they will practice primarily on turf, as most Mid-American Conference do.
Among MAC schools, only Ball State and UMass will spend a significant time practicing on grass this fall. Both are making the switch away from turf as the Falcons are doing.
Babers said the move to grass will help the Falcons get a higher quality of work accomplished.
“Grass is heavier, grass is slower, so you have to work harder if you play on grass,” Babers said. “When you’re on the turf, it’s fast and slick — so you don’t have to work as hard. We want to make sure we get our hard work in.”
Walker said he and the other linemen did not notice much difference between practicing on grass or turf.
“I heard some of the wide receivers and defensive backs talk about sliding around and stuff, but we defensive linemen just put our hand in the ground and hold our ground,” Walker said.
Senior wide receiver Heath Jackson said he and other skill position players did notice differences.
“On the grass you have to use a better technique, and we get tired pretty quickly,” Jackson said. “I think we’ll adjust to it, and I think we’ll get better at practicing on it.”
As for Monday’s first practice, which saw the Falcons compete in “shells” — wearing helmets but no pads — the tempo remained high. It was the first step toward a season where BG is predicted to win the MAC championship.
“The guys came out here and competed really well,” Jackson said. “We came out here with clear minds, not thinking about [preseason predictions].”
TRANSFERS ADDED: Both wide receiver Robbie Rhodes, a transfer from Baylor, and defensive end Malik Brown, a Tennessee transfer, practiced Monday with the Falcons. Babers said the team still has not received word from the NCAA as to whether the pair will be able to play this season or have to sit out until 2015.