Don Dias admits he misses the mud that used to be as much as part of football as cheerleaders, helmets and concession stands.
The Half Moon Bay High School line coach remembers when the big winners after a Friday night football game were the dry cleaners and there was more mud on the uniforms than is flung is an election.
“There isn’t a dog alive that doesn’t like rolling around in the mud, snarling and coming back with grass hanging from his facemask,” Dias said. “Every now and then you fall in a puddle, and you got to wipe the mud out of your eyes. That’s football.”
Last week, Half Moon Bay started practice for its eighth season of turf football. The Cougars have one game scheduled on grass, Sept. 14, at South San Francisco.
While Dias missed the days of mud, he says the game is now safer.
“I think we have much fewer injuries on our turf field than the old hard ground field,” Dias said.
It’s not to say that football is an injury-free game. Football is a contact game, where bruises, cramps, strains and pulled muscles happen. The scientific evidence is mixed. There have been a number of studies on the relative safety of turf vs. grass fields and the conclusions have run the gamut.
“The basic of it is that it made the game faster,” Dias said. “But to me, it made it safer as well.”
Head coach Keith Holden notices the safety when comparing a turf with a beat up grass field, like the one he played when he attended Half Moon Bay more than 20 years ago.
Safety is one of the reasons Holden prefers the turf field. Accuracy is another. When he played on the grass field at Half Moon Bay, hash marks were drawn only on game days.
“When we practiced, if a guy caught a ball, we weren’t sure if they were in bounds or not,” Holden said. “We would think there were in bounds. Here, we can be accurate with what we do.”
With the hash marks and numbers a part of the field, Holden and his staff can show directly where players need to line up and where to run to.
Thanks to the turf fields, cleats are not an issue when the rains come.
“We don’t have to wear the 1-½ inch cleats, where our foot is in the ground,” Dias said. “Now our kids wear half-inch molded cleats, so the possibility of that foot getting stuck when someone comes by and bangs them, blowing out a MCL, isn’t going to happen.”
With turf adding to the speed of the game, the structure of football is modern.
“But it’s still football,” Holden said. “Basically, you still line up against somebody.”