Said Jesse Marks, associate athletic director for development: Kids buy with their eyes now. The internet changed recruiting. Kids can go online and see waterfalls at some schools, hydrotherapy pools and Miami didnt have those sorts of things. Now, our facilities are up to par, and combined with all of the other great plusses here, it makes a huge difference.
The new facility was made possible because of a $5 million donation by Theodore Schwartz and his son, Todd, neither of whom attended UM, but both of whom fell in love with the Hurricanes from Chicago. Their affiliation with UM began in 1999, when Todd was a college senior and took a campus visit. He wound up going to Tulane, but his mother, Christine, a nurse, was captivated by the struggling UM nursing school, so she made a generous donation.
Her husband had been a Canes fan since 1964, when he saw a televised UM game.
I was 10 years old, and I saw the old Orange Bowl, with the palm trees, and I thought, How can they play football in a climate like that? Where I came from, it was snow and cold. So, I started following them that day.
I grew up in a sea of Notre Dame fans, and I always rooted for UM, said Todd Schwartz, who now owns a home in Aventura. UM has always been kind of an underdog, so it means a lot for us to be able to help the program and change the landscape for the U.
James realizes there is more work to be done. UM is a small private school and doesnt generate the kind of alumni dollars as giant state institutions. But now, he says, UM can at least compete.
We were behind with our facilities, and this doesnt put us ahead of the competition, but on par with most schools, James said. It is a smart investment. It isnt lavish or excessive, but its a great step.
The new facility, located just north of the Isidore Hecht Athletic Center, has already impressed recruits, said football coach Al Golden.
It gives us something to hang our hat on, Golden said. It makes such a difference from a recruiting standpoint and a morale standpoint. Its been an arms race for the past 10 to 12 years. We were lagging in that department. Obviously, this gives us a real boost.
Walking by those national championship trophies is inspiring, say the Hurricane players.
It is a constant reminder every day of what we want to accomplish, said senior offensive lineman Jared Wheeler.
Senior defensive back A.J. Highsmith knows how far UM facilities have come. His father, Alonzo, was a star running back in the mid-1980s, when the Hurricanes won national titles despite a dumpy locker room, cramped gym, and a practice field that is a fraction of what it is now.
I hear stories from my dad, and I visited here over the years as a kid, so I know how it used to be, the younger Highsmith said. Kids today care more about how things look, but the main thing we want is to achieve, and walking by that Gallery of Champions every day lets you know what kind of standards you have to hold yourself to because you know what came before you.
Said Golden: Those trophies are the standard at the end of the day. We have a long way to go as a program. But we know where the bar is and what were chasing and were reminded of it as we walk around our new home.