Playing on natural grass a rare luxury for Texas football teams

At an event last weekend, eight high school football teams played in the Cotton Bowl. We asked coaches to remember the last time they had coached a game on grass that wasn’t played at the old stadium.

It wasn’t easy.

“OK, I’m thinking,” said Rowlett head coach Doug Stephens after thinking for a few moments. “And I’m thinking that I’m going to have to keep trying to think.”

Synthetic field turf had been around for a decade and a half and now it’s everywhere. Among 6A and 5A programs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, only Cleburne plays all its home games on grass. The Frisco schools use Toyota Stadium on a regular basis but their other two home sites have artificial turf.

Grass stains are a thing of the past.

Mesquite Horn coach Mike Overton, whose team played in the Cotton Bowl Friday night, showed us a line of jerseys hung up in their laundry room that had been cleaned of all grass stains.

“Coach Wade, he spent Friday night, Saturday (cleaning these jerseys),” said Overton. “(He) came back up here Saturday morning. He sprayed every single grass stain.”

“You go out on turf, all you get is a turf burn,” said Chika Nwabuko, who plays linebacker and running back for Horn. “On grass, you get the stains to let you know you’re getting down and dirty, you’re playing good, you’re flying around on the field making plays and it just feels good.”

The change has been dramatic over the years. I’ve covered high school football on Friday nights for more than two decades. Two years ago, I came to Bishop Dunne for a game, and I distinctly noticed the smell of grass as I walked in. And I thought, I can’t remember the last time I smelled grass on a Friday night.

I asked Bishop Dunne head coach Michael Johnson how often he plays on grass, besides home games.

“Zero,” Johnson replied. “Zero times throughout the year.”

“When we was little, all we played on was grass, from flag to tiny mite, to mighty mite, we played on grass,” said Rowlett running back Kobe Morrow. “It’s like a Saturday morning smell.” “Anytime you get bad weather, you’re going to ruin your (grass) fields,” said coach Stephens from Rowlett. “Financially, it just doesn’t make sense to do anything but synthetic.

“But it sure felt good to go back in time a little bit.”