Football facility has serious wow factor

A couple of months ago as he stood outside the James W. “Bill” Heavner Football Complex, which was still under construction at the time, Urban Meyer was moved almost to tears. Carved into granite bricks were the names of each Gator that has been selected first team All-American. As he thought about each of those players and the sacrifices they made to the football program at the University of Florida, Meyer admits he was overwhelmed.

“I saw the black granite bricks in the front with all the All-Americans … I got emotional about it,” he admitted Friday, his first morning in his spacious new office. “Guys gave their life and their soul to make this program great and now they’re permanently part of the history in the greatest stadium in all of college football … out there where everybody can see them and embrace what they’ve done. We’re where we are today because of all the things those guys did in the past and we need to do more to honor them. We ARE going to do more to honor them.”

The granite bricks only take you to the entrance way. Once you step inside the doors the history of Florida football comes alive.

On the right side, just inside the entrance way, are trophy cases that house the Heismans won by Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007).

The national championship trophies from 1996 and 2006 are front and center. There are photos from the 52-20 thrashing of Florida State in the 1996 Sugar Bowl game that decided the national championship and the 41-14 clocking of Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona in 2007. As an added touch, there is a button you push that turns on a television that shows the highlights from the championship games — everything from Ike leaving two Seminoles with their jocks around their ankles with his stop on a dime move in 1996 to Derrick Harvey spending the night in the Ohio State backfield where he sacked Troy Smith three times in Glendale.

The SEC trophies are there along with tributes to all seven of Florida’s conference championship teams.

Toward the back there is an interactive video where you move a track ball over the picture of a Gator great like Carlos Alvarez, Wes Chandler or Tim Tebow, punch a button and then watch one highlight play after another on a video screen.

And that’s just inside the entrance. Up the stairs are the coaches offices. They are spacious and player friendly. They also contain every high tech advantage imaginable to allow Florida’s coaches to stay steps ahead in game preparation, video and communication.

An elevator ride down to field level and there is a huge weight training facility with the latest in machinery to help Florida’s football players hone and shape their bodies for maximum performance. Huge flat screen televisions are on every wall and the music blasts away.

The locker room has been rebuilt and it’s bigger and more comfortable than ever before. Once again, there are huge flat screen TVs on every wall and the speaker system is capable of blasting away with music to fit the mood and the moment.

The entire complex is cutting edge, designed with the future in mind.

“One of the mistakes that so often is made with a new facility is that two years after it’s open, it’s obsolete,” said Meyer. “Obviously this is going to be here for decades so it was designed to be well ahead of the curve and to stay that way.

“We’re on the cutting edge on coaching stuff. Everything is in place to be very functional with the staff and then you go from the locker room to the weight room facility to the front door and then to the office space … this is a cutting edge facility. This is about as good as it gets.”

Meyer says the wow factor for the players will take place over the next couple of days. They know about the weight room because they’ve been working out in it. They will see the new entrance to the complex both Friday and Saturday and that’s when they’ll get their first look at the new coaches’ offices.

Meyer hadn’t even seen the coaches offices until Thursday when he took Shelley and nine-year-old Nate Meyer with him on a tour of the facility.

“Nate was everywhere,” said Meyer with a grin. “He was pushing the video screens and taking in everything.”

When he left for home Thursday night, his office was only partially furnished. By the time he got to work Friday morning, everything was in place.

That’s when he got his own personal wow factor.

“There’s pictures of my wife and my kids on the desk,” he said. “Everything was in place and everything is fully functional. That’s the wow!”

Friday afternoon Meyer got to give recruits from all over the nation a chance to experience the wow factor. Friday Night Lights is bringing in approximately 160 of the best high school football players in the country for a one-night event that has become somewhat of a legend in its previous three years of existence.

Just as Friday Night Lights is designed with the recruit in mind, so are all the new football facilities. Meyer understands he’s dealing with a generation that has grown up with text messaging, cell phones that take pictures and access the Internet, flat screen televisions and cable packages that offer 300 stations.

“There is a reason for everything we do here,” he said. “You walk in and see those beautiful trophy cases. We are making our front door a tribute to the great players and teams … embracing our past but building forward to the future. Anything we do we do to motivate recruits.

“Any time when 18 year old eyes see Jack Youngblood’s name, Emmit Smith’s name, Tim Tebow’s name and the way we honor our great players, our great teams … their eyes are going to get wide because they know you can have a great career here and you will always be remembered.”

The facility is everything he hoped it would be but he’s not the least bit surprised it turned out this way.

“One thing about the University of Florida, when they do something they do it right,” he said. “This is the way it should be. This should be the best and the classiest facility in college football.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.