Mark Stoops’ favorite part of the new Kentucky practice facility is the main team meeting room.
“It’s a beautiful setting,” the head coach said this week previewing the Cats’ new, $45 million facility. “It’s nice and quiet and we’re all alone in there. I like the team room. It’s really beautiful.”
Ask almost anyone associated with UK football and he or she has a different favorite part of the new facility, which the media toured Friday afternoon.
Ask the players, and they’d probably say their favorite part is the locker room, which includes a massive, Lite Brite-style interlocking UK that hangs over the ceiling.
The world’s most team-oriented chandelier hangs just in front of a massive television — a combined 20 55-inch televisions that come together to create the country’s largest screen in any facility — that can show daily items or game footage.
The lockers themselves require a keypad to enter spaces for everything players could need from a USB outlet to cup holders to ventilated space for their stinkiest gear.
“I really like the locker room for the players,” Stoops said of the space, which includes player pictures on their lockers and other personal touches. “We really geared it for the players. They work extremely hard.”
There’s mood lighting and a surround-sound system for good measure in the locker room, which is directly connected to a barber shop and players’ lounge with gaming chairs and table games.
“We’re at the top of technology in this building,” said Dan Berezowitz, UK’s director of recruiting, who gave a guided tour. “From our retinal scanners to computers, wireless, coaches have what they need. It’s a lot of what you see in the NFL and top college facilities.”
Heavy Nike presence
There are lots of seemingly Nike-sponsored spaces in the new place, including an interactive part of the lobby where players can see themselves in various UK uniform and gear options. Outside the locker room is a massive Nike display showing all of the gear that a player will receive during his time on campus.
Or maybe the convenience part of the technology will be a player favorite? The facility is equipped with digital eye scanners that mean they won’t have to carry student IDs to get into a massive new weight room or cardio mezzanine.
The weight room, with 15,000 square feet of space — more than 6,000 more than the old place — is filled with brand-new equipment.
There’s the Gatorade refueling station nearby and a massive dining space for 90 people to eat at the same time with dishes prepared by a personal team chef.
It’s just underneath an area where players can meet with tutors and work on homework when football work is done.
That’s probably the favorite part for Marc Hill, UK’s executive associate director of athletics, who helped give the tour.
“Everybody has a great facility,” he said. “Ours is the newest of the great facilities. Nobody’s going to produce what we have produced with the proximities.”
The fact that the weight room, training room (with hydrotherapy tubs and underwater treadmill) are right next to dining options, the practice fields, study hall and the locker room are what make it extra special to Hill.
“It’s set up for the success of the student-athlete,” he said. “That’s the coolest part of the whole concept.”
Then there’s the proximity to Commonwealth Stadium, so close now that the new facility will serve as a game-day locker room. And it’s just one flight of stairs from the Nutter Indoor Training Facility. It’s a much easier commute on bad weather days for players, who previously had to walk or be bused from one facility to the other.
The finishing touches
As the final additions were being placed on the new facility, Stoops said he purposefully stayed out. He went back in late last week.
“I was really overwhelmed,” the head coach said. “It was incredible. It was a great feeling. When you put all the finishing touches on it and the graphics and you put it all together, it’s amazing.”
Some of the graphics include a huge interactive touch screen surrounded by NFL gloves. Players can look up past Cats and learn more about their professional careers. There’s a “Ring of Honor” wall honoring former UK greats that seems to be peeking into the window of the dining area.
Player meeting rooms, which feature action shots on the wall of the best players to play their specific positions, are near a long hall of Kentucky All-Americans.
If UK players are trying to become one of those guys on the wall, they’ll need to spend a lot of time on the new practice fields, which come in both turf and Bermuda grass. The fully lit fields will be ready to go by the start of fall camp on Aug. 4, officials said.
Permanent structures replace the scissor lifts of old and have places for cameras to be connected so that what they shoot in practice directly feeds back to a large, in-house video workroom for efficiency.
One new piece of the facility that certainly won’t be a player favorite is the so-called “encouragement stairs,” as they’ve been dubbed by the staff.
The area near the practice fields features different steep outdoor staircases with varying step size for player drills and post-practice “encouragement.” There are also two steep ramps flanking either side.
Initially the encouragement stairs weren’t part of the plan, but were added when architects mentioned they’d have to build a retaining wall in that space next to the practice field and were looking for a better idea.
So maybe that’s the one spot they’ll hide from recruits. They hope the rest of it will be the final piece of the recruiting puzzle.
“Kids are telling us this is as good as anywhere in the country,” Berezowitz said of the new facility. “That’s what we want is to have a ‘wow’ factor and be functional.”
Southern Mississippi at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. Sept. 3 (ESPNU)