Carol Soffer grew up in Chicago going to Bears games with her father and Wisconsin games as a college coed who loved football.
But her heart, and her legacy, will forever be linked to the University of Miami, as Hurricanes football players will see her name for years to come in giant letters next to an even bigger “U” on the soon-to-be-built Carol Soffer Football Indoor Practice Facility.
“I’m totally overwhelmed,” said Soffer, a longtime UM donor and multiple-sport season-ticket holder who will be honored, along with her family at the groundbreaking on Thursday night. “That No. 1 recruiting class of 2018 is going to be very happy.”
Soffer’s son, billionaire and prominent South Florida real estate developer Jeffrey Soffer, 49, and his sisters Jackie Soffer, 51, and Brooke Soffer, 46, are the lead donors, contributing $14 million toward the $34 million project that is targeted for completion in August 2018. It was the largest donation in the history of UM athletics.
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The project will exceed 100,000 square feet and include two turf fields that combine for 81,000-square feet. The indoor facility, located on the current football practice area, will also house a football operations center with a mezzanine level for the football coaches’ offices and meeting rooms.
Jeffrey Soffer and his family own a majority interest in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and developed most of what is known as Aventura today, including the Aventura Mall and Turnberry Isle.
The family, which believes strongly in giving to the community, is especially devoted to the UM Miller School of Medicine. The children gave $25 million to its Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, which was renamed the Don Soffer Clinical Research Center after Soffer’s former husband.
The day of the dedication ceremony last year, Carol said her son told her, “We want to do something for you, Mom, just like we did for Dad.”
Soffer knew right away what she wanted.
“Mark Richt is the most amazing man,” Carol Soffer said of UM’s football coach, whose first season was in 2016 and, like athletic director Blake James, knew an indoor facility was an integral step in catching up with the rest of the nation and a major vehicle to upgrade the program.
“The results we’re having on the field are a direct correlation to having him as a coach. I told Jeffrey, ‘If you really want to do something for me, UM sports is my passion.’ One thing led to another.
“I wanted only the family name on the facility, but Jeffrey said, ‘No. If we don’t put your name on the building, we’re not doing it.’”
Jeffrey Soffer used the word everyone else used to describe his mother: “Passionate.”
“My mom is very passionate about the university and that athletic program,” Jeffrey Soffer said. “She’s a great woman, very loyal. Miami is a great city and obviously the University of Miami is a major sports team. They needed this facility. They needed it to be able to recruit. It’s all part of the show.
“I have a saying: ‘You build it right and they will come.’ And they will come, because UM has a world-class program, a great coach in Mark Richt, great facilities and alumni who are some of the best players in the world.
“We want to help return University of Miami fooball to what it was in the ’80s and ’90s and early 2000s.”
Eighty former student-athletes as of Tuesday had donated about $1.75 million to the facility, including $1 million by former UM quarterback Richt and his wife Katharyn and $250,000 by former linebacker Jon Beason. In all, close to $32 million has been raised.
Carol Soffer has been a major donor of the UM football program for more than 20 years, and mentored former players Ryan Hill, a cornerback from 2006 to 2010; and Devin Hester, a star returner from 2003-05, and the NFL’s all-time leader in combined punt/kickoff returns for touchdowns.
“She was a great person with a kind heart, and crazy about her Miami Hurricanes,” Hester said this week about Soffer in a text to the Miami Herald.
Soffer has several grandchildren and brings them to football games as often as possible. They sit around the 40-yard line and follow her lead as she “screams like a crazy person,’’ said Brooke Soffer. “She’s just a big kid, always the first one cheering and screaming. She loves to be in the middle of the energy in full UM gear.
“She’s always looking at UM football statistics on her computer. We’ll be like, ‘Mom, can you pay attention?’ She’s consumed.”
James said Soffer “is driven” to see the entire UM athletics program “achieve excellence” and “loves to talk Hurricanes. No one is more passionate.”
Former Canes center Don Bailey Jr., a longtime UM football radio broadcaster who snapped to quarterback great Jim Kelly and Richt, called Soffer “an angel for the program.”
“I don’t know her on a personal level,” said Bailey, who donated $10,000 with his wife, Priscilla, “but I know this: I love her, I respect her, I appreciate her. Carol Soffer has helped point this program in a different direction for maybe the rest of its life.”