When a trio of Kentucky seniors returned from a service trip to Africa recently, they walked into a new and improved Nutter Training Facility.
Gone were ho-hum gray walls with static art. In their place were many cosmetic renovations that added some color to the building that has housed UK football since 1987.
"It blew us away," senior center Matt Smith said on Thursday as he took the media on a tour of the changes. "I was in here left and right taking pictures of everything and going home and showing my family."
The facility face-lift took a year to plan and about two weeks to install for Forty Nine Degrees, a company out of Ohio. It cost roughly $158,000, UK officials said.
The changes are mostly decorative, with nearly life-sized pictures of former UK players now playing professionally along the main wall as well as a place for the stars of the most recent game to be featured.
At the outside entrance to Nutter is new signage, and just inside the door near the coaches' offices is a floor-to-ceiling metallic "K."
"They've really upped the energy here at Nutter," Smith said. "They really spruced it up and spent a lot of money and a lot of time doing it for us."
Other changes include a wall highlighting previous UK bowl teams with places for pictures of future bowl teams. There also is a wall that has logos and lists of all Southeastern Conference-affiliated bowls.
The bowl history wall is one of Smith's favorite new features, serving as a "great reminder for what we're working for," he said.
But first things first, said Smith and co-tour guide LaRod King, noting that the rivalry game against Louisville is just 79 days away.
The players are reminded of that each time they leave the weight room by a new wall accent simply called "Beat Louisville."
"I hate those guys," King said. "I have a bunch of hatred in my heart for those guys. ... This (wall) reminds us of a team goal to bring the Governor's Cup home."
Also near that wall is a "great moments" in UK football wall, which includes highlights like the Cats' win over top-ranked Louisiana State in 2007 and last season's win over Tennessee for the first time in 26 attempts.
"It gives us a lot of energy when we come in here," Smith said. "We all got really excited to see all of the new things they put up. There are little reminders as we walk down the hall."
The cosmetic changes are the eighth in as many seasons for UK, which Smith said helps in recruiting. Recent improvements have included new video boards and a new audio system.
The media tour coincidentally fell on the same day as an ESPN blog that ranked the Cats' football facilities near the bottom of the SEC.
On his blog, Chris Low rated UK's facilities at No. 13 just in front of Vanderbilt. In the rankings, Low said he includes stadium, locker room, weight room, training room, meeting rooms, indoor practice facilities, coaches' offices and the academic center.
The top schools on the list were Alabama and Louisiana State. Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn rounded out the top five.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com