Hawkins Center shows Florida Gators commitment to student-athletes

On Monday the University of Florida opened the doors to the Otis P. Hawkins Center for Academic and Personal Excellence at Farrior Hall following a $25 million dollar renovation. The new facility promises to offer more than 500 student-athletes a number of amenities geared towards helping them excel outside of their respective fields and courts of play.

“I was part of a small championship team,” Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said. “Memories of those championships they do fade. What doesn’t fade is a championship in the arena of life and this building involves a lot of that. What will happen form this building will really shape the rest of the lives of the athletes that come through this program.”

Following a ribbon cutting ceremony former Florida Gators football player Kevin Carter was the emcee of the dedication, where University President Kent Fuchs, Athletic Director Jeremy Foley and members of the Hawkins family were in attendance.

The brainchild of former Head Football Coach Charley Pell and former Athletic Director Bill Carr, the Otis Hawkins Center was born in 1979. The building and system put in place to help promote the academic and personal lives of student-athletes was the first program devoted solely to the needs of student-athletes off the field. In its infancy, the program offered seven tutoring and study rooms and four counselors in yon Hall. Through a donation from Mary Lee and Rex Farrior, Farrior Hall was built and the program expanded. The new facility offered more space, including a 48-seat auditorium; expanded tutoring services and allowed the program to introduce leadership training, character development and lifelong learning.

The growth of the athletic program caused the facility to become somewhat overcrowded. The new $25 million dollar expansion has added legroom. The expansion includes more than 70 new tutoring rooms, 25 academic and support offices, a 125-seat auditorium, two new computer labs, offices for the 19 full-time Hawkins Center staff, a nutrition area (known as the Fuel Bar) and a sports medicine research area.

“It’s 80,000 square feet dedicated solely to the academic and personal development of our student-athletes,” Foley said. “This has always been a top priority for us.”

The building design is sleek and classy. As you first enter the glass doors your eyes are draw upwards, the lobby extending up three stories to a wooden roof. Every detail has been thought of and planned out meticulously, even the wood used to create the ceiling.

Florida contracted with the Goodwin Company to use 41,408 linear feet of reclaimed wood. Goodwin milled the wood locally after the Heart Pine was reclaimed from the Suwanee River.

“The new Hawkins Center incorporates locally sourced, antique wood into a contemporary design,” Associate Athletic Director Chip Howard said. “We wanted to build the highest caliber, most unique and modern collegiate academic center to provide all the necessary resources for our students.”

The impact of the building could be seen, even as the ceremony was being held. Summer B classes started at UF on Monday and student-athletes, looking puzzled at the large gathering of people in the lobby, walked in to use study rooms and the Fuel Bar.

The Fuel bar may be the most unique aspect of the entire building. The concept isn’t new, there are Fuel Bars located throughout campus, where players can get a quick snack or a drink in-between classes, workouts or practice. The new fueling station at the Hawkins Center is different, however.

The Hawkins Center has a fuel bar with Gatorade drinks, energy/protein bars, peanut butter, nuts and granola that student-athletes can enjoy on the go, but it also has a fully stocked demo kitchen. In the past, the nutrition staff would have to bring in tables and equipment to the Gator room (located on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium) to give cooking demonstrations.

Now, in an 800-square foot fueling station and kitchen, the nutrition staff can give student-athletes cooking, food prep and nutrition demonstrations, teaching them how to cook healthy, well-balanced food for themselves. It’s all part of trying to create a well-rounded experience and a well-rounded student-athlete so that they leave Florida a better person and more prepared for their life after school.

“I tell them, if you choose to commit to the University of Florida, our commitment back to you will be double. I commit that to you, I mean double,” said Foley. “Not just with the coaches and winning championships, but double in terms of what is represented in this building.”

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC