Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Every time Sacramento State quarterback Garrett Safron looks at the back of his right hand, he sees the scar from a cut that split open when he fell on the field during a 2012 game at Eastern Washington.
It would be easy to believe the bright red synthetic turf at EWU's "The Inferno" had come to life that day, reared up at Safron and allowed the Eagles to beat another visiting opponent.
The turf is like the Eagles' 12th man on the field.
While playing on the famous red carpet would seem to give the No. 1-ranked team in the FCS a distinct advantage, the Eagles usually win on it because of their team's great talent. Opposing players may arrive on the turf a bit uneasy, but they tend to adjust to the unique color. Adjusting to the Eagles is another story, though.
The Big Sky Conference power has a 24-4 home record since the turf was installed in 2010, but one of the opponents to win there - Sam Houston State - will come calling on Saturday in the "FCS Kickoff," which is the first college football game of the season. The Bearkats, from the Southland Conference, won a memorable playoff game in Cheney, 45-42, in December 2012.
"I don't think it's a big distraction like people think," EWU star quarterback Vernon Adams said of the red turf. "A lot of people don't like it because they say it hurts their eyes. The team comes out the night before, they get out there, practice, they get used to it. Then they come out the next day, on game day, and pre-game, they get a little more used to it. I wouldn't say it's an advantage, but some people do. I really like it."
The walk-through practice that visiting teams have the night before a game can change perceptions about the red turf. Until a player stands on it, his only view of the turf is generally from TV angles from above, where the redness seems to glow more with each look. Basically it's overwhelming and causes concern.
But when a player stands on the red turf, what he sees when looking forward is no different from what he is accustomed at other fields. The background, from the colors of different jerseys to the sky to whatever is in view, is familiar.
"You're used to playing on a normal field, but then you go there, it's weird," said Montana State linebacker Na'a Moeakiola, whose team was the first visitor to beat EWU on the red turf in 2011. "But you have to block that stuff out and you have to focus on your game."
"I talked to one of the receivers here and he says maybe it takes a little more adjustment with the ball sometimes. But I like it," said North Dakota safety Baylee Carr, whose team lost on the red turf in 2012.
"On TV, I felt like when I watched it, it was a lot brighter, like, 'Whoa!' But when you're on it, to me it wasn't that big a deal."
EWU followed the example of Boise State and its blue turf as the second school to install a turf colored other than green. The Eagles debuted their new turf with a win over rival Montana in September 2010, and its concept continued to gain media attention.
As a high school senior in Pasadena, California, Adams remembers seeing a photo of the red turf in Sports Illustrated and later that week getting a scholarship offer from the EWU coaching staff.
On Saturday, Adams and the top-ranked Eagles will have a national spotlight to show off both their team and their red turf.
"It's huge for the program, for the school," Adams said. "Everybody's going to be watching - family members, scouts, little kids, just all that. It's just going to be really huge. I'm just really excited to show everybody how good we are.
"Sam Houston's beaten us twice in the last two years (last year in Huntsville, Texas). You know I'm hungry for that."
This Season's Record: 0-0
Last Season's Record: 636-222 (.741)
No. 17 Sam Houston State at X-No. 1 Eastern Washington - The visiting Bearkats who own a 3-0 series lead, no longer have Timothy Flanders to run over the EWU defense and perhaps no longer have more team speed than the two-time defending Big Sky Conference champions. While the Eagles will have to adjust to the changes made by new Bearkats coach K.C. Keeler, the ESPN showcase is too important for the Eagles not to make the most of it. Eastern Washington, 38-21.