TreVeyon Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba both laughed when they were asked about the difference between the new turf at Ohio Stadium and the field they played on last year.
The previous turf inside the Shoe, which was in place for eight Ohio State football seasons, drew plenty of criticism from afar as fans took notice of players slipping and the fading color in the scarlet end zones. Based on what Henderson and Smith-Njigba had to say on Wednesday, it was clear they weren’t happy with the worn-out playing surface either.
“It was very slippery. I mean, it was sometimes I would roll my ankle out of nowhere,” Henderson said. “Now that doesn't happen, though. We've been practicing in the new turf and it feels great. It feels great now.”
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they’re no longer playing on that old turf this fall. When Ohio State takes the field – Safelite Field, as it’s now called for sponsorship reasons – for its first of eight 2022 home games on Saturday against Notre Dame, it will be playing on a brand new playing surface that was installed inside the Shoe this summer. A new turf field was also installed inside the Buckeyes’ indoor practice facility at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
While a game hasn’t yet been played on the new field inside Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes have practiced in the Shoe multiple times in the weeks leading up to the season, and Henderson has noticed the difference from a year ago.
“Way better. Way better. I'm glad they finally got that done,” Henderson said when asked how the new turf compares to the old turf. “A lot of the turf last year was very hard. So this year it’s more softer and stuff. It’s safer, able to cut better and stuff.”
Smith-Njigba agreed with Henderson’s assessment of the new turf, saying “it looks good and it feels good.”
“We're ready to bounce around on it,” Smith-Njigba said. “I’m just more confident in my cuts, for real. We were kind of slipping a lot, a little bit last year, but, you know, just more confidence. So it's good to always have that.”
During his radio show Thursday, Ohio State coach Ryan Day also praised the new turf, describing it as a “fast track.” He said the Buckeyes practiced inside Ohio Stadium four or five times during the preseason to get comfortable with the new field, and they’ve also benefitted from having a new field installed in their indoor facility that’s exactly like the field at the Shoe.
“They’re state-of-the-art, really nice fields,” Day said.
The old turf certainly didn’t seem to slow Henderson or Smith-Njigba down much last season. Henderson rushed for 793 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in seven games as a true freshman at home, where he had all of his top five rushing performances in 2021. While his two record-setting games against Nebraska and Utah came away from home, Smith-Njigba had 44 catches for 715 yards and five touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ seven games inside the Shoe last year.
Henderson made brief exits from a few games last season with minor injuries, though, and said it was in the back of his mind that he needed to be a bit more careful when he was making cuts on his home field.
“That was a thought, just trying to be cautious. Not make a mistake and then you end up injuring yourself,” Henderson said. “So I'm just glad they got all that handled.”