In a watershed moment for the University of Miami football program, the Hurricanes on Friday took an enormous step in the college football arms race and interrupted the monotony of training camp when the team held its first practice inside its new state-of-the-art 83,000-square-foot Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility.
“Awesome,” was how linebacker Shaquille Quarterman explained the experience afterward. “Way cooler inside. It’s not even fully done yet, but it’s amazing. They did their thing making sure that everything was good.”
Coach Mark Richt admitted he became “a little emotional” after seeing Soffer before the practice began. Soffer’s son Jeffrey donated $14 million of the $34 million needed to build it. “For the first time in my head coaching career, I won’t have to worry about plan B,” Richt said.
The facility will allow UM to continue practicing during lightning and weather delays with only a very slight delay, because it’s adjacent to the outdoor practice field. When lightning is in the area, for example, players have to clear the field for at least 30 minutes. If more lightning strikes during the wait, the 30-minute clock resets.
But the facility also will occasionally be used to give players a break from the heat.
Richt knows there’s a fine line between having the players well-conditioned to seize on natural advantages against teams from cooler climates but also conserving players’ energy.
“We’ve got to practice in the heat; we’ve got to play in the heat,” Richt said. But he noted taking players indoors after several days outdoors during training camp keeps them from “depleting all their electrolytes. You grind really good for maybe three, four days … and on the next day, instead of taking the day off to go bowling [as the team did Thursday], you get in the AC and still get your work in.”
The air-conditioned facility has two fields, one 80 yards long and the other 40 yards. The smaller field is underneath the mezzanine where Richt’s office will be.
The facility, which opens 15 months after groundbreaking, is neither dim or dark; sunlight peeks through large windows and palm trees are visible through several of those windows.
Athletic director Blake James called getting this built the biggest priority of his administration. The need for an indoor facility came up fairly quickly after James reached out to Richt about the UM job in December 2015.
There was already a vision to build a facility when Richt was hired, but Richt made several especially meaningful contributions — donating $1 million of his money toward construction and suggesting that the facility include coaches offices that are suspended from the rooftop.
“I knew our football operations needed a facelift badly and I knew we needed this,” Richt said. “So I’m thinking I’ve got two projects, which one? I’m like, well, ‘I’ve got to go for the indoor.’ And then, truly, one morning, like 2, 3 in the morning, I woke up and was like, ‘Maybe we do both at the same time, make it one project’ and the thing that really I appreciated the most was Blake James allowing me to spend time with the architects and talk about exactly what we need.”
Richt brought the players into the facility Thursday night “to let them run around and change directions a little bit because this turf is different. They’ve got to get used to it.”
Richt put an emphasis on safety, with James noting “we don’t have pillars sticking out” so that when players run out of bounds and get clipped, they won’t be hit by “pillars sitting there.”
James and Richt emphasized that $3 million must still be raised to help finance additions including a large video board, additional coach’s and recruiting offices, and other amenities such as furniture. All UM coaches will have their offices in the building except for basketball, baseball and tennis.
“You can build a building, but if you put cheap furniture in there and you put just white paint on the wall, it’s not going to pop like it should,” Richt said. “We want it to look awesome and so, it’s the little things that maybe cost [more]. Even the lighting in the hallways and the way to honor our former players on all these position rooms. We’ve got a little ways to go. I always tell everybody, we’ve got one chance to do it right. Let’s do it right the first time. Let’s not go cheap on anything.”
Soffer, who was introduced to the team by Richt on Friday, noted that her ex-husband Donald’s name is on a UM medical building and said her son Jeffrey told her two years ago that “I want to do something for you” – which led to the $14 million donation.
Having her name on the facility is especially meaningful because “most athletic departments have men’s names. It’s always been a boy’s club. Women should be involved in athletics. It’s not just about the men.”
When will fans be able to enter the facility? James mentioned the possibility of future Canesfest events (there won’t be one before this season) and potentially banquets and coaching clinics.
Center Tyler Gauthier called the facility “definitely a game changer” in recruiting.
▪ UM will hold its second scrimmage at an undisclosed location on Saturday night. It’s closed to media and fans.
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