LEXINGTON, Ky. – For most of his first three years on the job as Kentucky’s football coach, Mark Stoops was selling promises. There will be a massive stadium renovation. There will be a state-of-the-art training facility. Someday.
But now that day has arrived. The $126 million face lift for Commonwealth Stadium was completed last fall, and on Thursday Stoops had the pleasure of giving his players a tour of their glittering new $45 million training center.
“We all feel very proud and very happy for the players,” Stoops said. “We promised them that, a lot of them, when we were recruiting them. To see it come to fruition and get in there, it’s surreal to be honest with you. It’s just been so long … but yet it happened so quick, really.
“When we got here (in December of 2012), we got the funding, we got the architects going. It just takes so long to put a building like that up. It’s beautiful.”
As the latest project neared completion, Stoops said he deliberately stayed away from the site for two weeks, while all the fancy finishing touches went up. He wanted to be blown away by the transformation the next time he saw it, and he was not disappointed.
“I was really overwhelmed,” Stoops said. “It was incredible. It was a great feeling. We’ve been talking about it for a long time (and) to get this building done, this is going to help Kentucky football for a long time. It’s really fun to walk recruits through there, instead of just showing them sketches and model makeups and all that stuff. That’s a big difference-maker. It was for me.”
The Wildcats just wrapped up a huge recruiting weekend and the new building was already generating major buzz. Several prospects shared photos and rave reviews about UK’s top-notch facilities – a compliment that hadn’t been heard around this program in many years. Stoops is thrilled about that, but quick to point out the more immediate impact.
“We’re very proud and happy it will help us in recruiting, but I’m probably most happy for our current players, because they’ve been through a lot,” Stoops said. “They deserve the very best. They work hard, and it will help them develop.”
From a luxurious new locker room – with high-tech, vented lockers (with cup holders!) – to a movie theater-like team meeting room to the massive new weight room to sparkling recovery pools to a fancy dining room and even a barber shop, Stoops believes there could be a “look good, feel good, play good” element to this enormous upgrade. Nothing about UK football feels second-rate anymore.
“No doubt about it,” he said. “We’re changing the culture … and part of that culture is to have the very best. We play in the best league in college football, we compete against the very best, we recruit against the very best, so we need these type of facilities for our players. And yes, I do think it will make a difference, because they do feel better, because they know that we’re committed to giving them the best and put them in the best position they can (be) to be successful.”
All that’s left now is a breakthrough on the field. After consecutive 5-7 seasons, Stoops enters Year 4 hoping to punch UK’s first postseason ticket since 2010. The Cats certainly look the part now.
* Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleTucker_AJC. Reach him at Kyle.Tucker@ajc.com.