'One-stop' practice center will put UK football life under one roof

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 31, 2014 

When Kentucky's football coaches know that they're going to have a recruit on campus, they have to remember to grab the golf cart keys.

No visit to campus is complete without a cart to take a potential player and his parents to the various spots on campus where he'll be spending his time.

The tour starts at the Nutter Field House next to Commonwealth Stadium and it includes long rides over to the training center and weight rooms.

Then there's the trek clear across campus to meet future tutors at Memorial Coliseum.

Oh, and if a recruit wants to know where he's going to be eating with teammates after tutoring, it's back across campus.

If it's too cold for the cart, the trips become even longer by car.

The recruiting golf carts will get some well-deserved rest with the $45 million football practice center approved by the school's board of trustees on Friday.

"Now, recruits can pull up, park their car and we can show them where they'll eat, where they'll train, where they'll study and it's all going to be under one roof," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown told the Herald-Leader on Friday night.

"Recruiting has been positive without it, but it's going to greatly enhance the product we're selling."

The idea is for the complex to be two stories attached to or near the indoor facility. It will include coaches' offices, locker spaces and team meeting areas as well as training areas.

There will be a new weight room, a high performance area, a hydrotherapy room as well as an academic center and a study lounge.

The new practice center will be a "one-stop shop for our kids," Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said on Friday.

"Right now, we eat one place, we train one place, we have academics across campus, and it's a little disjointed," Barnhart explained. "To be able to get that all under one roof would be really, really important for 120 of the most important pieces of our athletic program. That would be very, very helpful to us."

More than anything, it puts UK on a more level playing field, Brown said.

"So much of recruiting comes down to comparison," he said. "Kids narrow it down to one, two, three options and they compare them plus and minus."

Facilities are "very crucial" when a player is making his decision, said the high school coach of Matt Elam, one of the top players in this upcoming signing class.

"The (current UK) facilities aren't near where other SEC schools are, and I saw them first-hand," John Hardin's Chad Lewis told the Herald-Leader on Thursday. "To compete and recruit with the best, you gotta have the best."

He talked about Alabama's $9 million weight room and a locker room like one "you'd probably see in the NFL."

Having that one place where everything is available will help Kentucky compete for top recruits with other big-name schools, but it's also important to the players once they sign with UK, too.

"Kids within our program are going to work extremely hard and they deserve to be treated with the best," Brown said. "Now we have an opportunity to go out and sell that.

"It's going to make a huge difference. It's going to give us an opportunity to be competitive in recruiting for a long time."

As they've been carting around recruits on campus the past two months, Kentucky's coaches have been telling them about the potential new complex.

It's been a big selling point. It was for Lewis and Elam.

"They've gotten behind Stoops and they're going to do it," Lewis said. "And I think he's going to get it turned around. Maybe they sold me, too, but I feel like Kentucky is going to turn their program around."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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