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Ravens to have artificial turf at training camp

Walking up the hill at McDaniel College during Brian Billick's first training camp as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, Green Terror football coach Tim Keating made a rather large request.<br><br> "Brian asked me if there was anything the Ravens could do for me and the school, and I said, ‘Yes, get me artificial turf,'" Keating said.<br>

Keating recounted Billick touching his chin in sort of an Abraham Lincoln fashion before responding that he would definitely follow up on the matter.

Five years later at both coaches' request, artificial turf has been installed at Scott S. Bair Stadium. 

The upgrade came primarily at the Ravens' expense in a move that gives the NFL team the same surface to practice on during training camp that it uses for games in the fall at M&T Bank Stadium.

Keating views the artificial surface as a potential competitive and recruiting advantage in the Centennial Conference.

"I planted the seed for this, but Brian was the catalyst," Keating said in a telephone interview from the University of Maryland football camp. "I'm ecstatic. We needed this turf."

Keating had often mentioned artificial turf as a necessity that his football team lacked, staring at a muddy quagmire sprinkled with divots after games. 

He also noted to Billick how the Ravens would no longer have to work out in the school gymnasium during heavy rainstorms. When Ted Marchibroda was coaching the Ravens, he once brought the team back to its Owings Mills' training complex because of weather.

Now, McDaniel and the Ravens will have the Momentum Turf System designed by Sportexe.

The surface is comprised of millions of polyethylene fibers to simulate two-inch high blades of grass. A combination of rubber and silica known as infill material is groomed and combed into the turf 1 ½ inches high to allow the surface to give and slide like real grass.

"I think it's going to be a good thing for our entire program," McDaniel athletics director Jamie Smith said. "It's going to allow us to improve our conditions, not just in the stadium. Previously, we'd have a soccer game going on with football practice going on next to it. Hopefully, it will improve the condition of the soccer field and our other fields as well."

The surface isn't as unforgiving as standard turf and the upkeep isn't expensive.

The Ravens' grounds crew had spent a considerable amount of time and money in the past resodding the McDaniel fields.

"It gives you a bit of a break on your knees and gives you a smooth and fast surface," said David Staines, Sportexe director of marketing. "We expect our fields will last between 15-20 years. It's guaranteed for 10 years. This turf takes minimal maintenance. The infill settles quite nicely."

Smith said the Ravens' gift, one that costs $4 per square foot or roughly $400,000 for the entire field, brings McDaniel in line with other institutions.

"It's such a common thing, even among smaller schools now," Smith said. "You look at the Baltimore area, even a lot of the private schools have it now. It doesn't really separate you from anyone at this point in time. Other schools in our conference have it. It puts us with them."

From the Ravens' perspective, it cuts down on traveling to downtown Baltimore to work out at M&T Bank Stadium, an inconvenient trek the team made several times during inclement weather last summer.

"It's nice that it worked out this way," long snapper Joe Maese said. "It's nice to practice on the same kind of field that you play on. It definitely makes a difference if you practice on turf or grass. I know it make a difference for the kickers, who can be very particular.

"It will definitely be a lot more convenient. We made a lot of trips downtown last year. It's nice to have it right down the street at training camp."

Keating said he plans to have his team practice on the field, which will allow him to film practice from the press box and review how personnel and strategies are performing.

He also declared that he won't be shy about mentioning both the new surface and the NFL team that practices on it every summer during his recruiting spiels to prospects.

"It's a nice little feather in our cap," Keating said. "We can tell high school players that the best players in the world use this field, and so can you. This is a real shot in the arm for us."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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