College football • Utes say $32M facility will help earn better recruits, more wins.
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There were a lot of congratulatory remarks, pats on the backs and reflections during Utah's grand opening for the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center on Thursday.
But leave it to Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham for putting the whole thing into the context football fans want to hear that the $32 million facility will help the Utes win games.
"What a difference it has made already in the whole atmosphere and attitude of the football team," he said. "It's awesome."
Whittingham has long pushed for such an expansive building to help the Utes compete against other Pac-12 schools for the best recruits.
The new facility is built on the site of the old Dee Glen Smith Center, which was built in 1991 and was outdated since it didn't have enough space for player meetings, dinners, etc.
As Utah athletic director Chris Hill once said, it's hard to impress top-notch recruits when the team is eating outside its facility under tents.
The 152,211-square-foot facility isn't in danger of such quaintness.
It boasts a 250-seat cafeteria that serves up a variety of food coded by nutrition and caloric standards for Utah's athletes.
Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly said the facility has helped build team camaraderie because the team never wants to leave.
"They are playing video games and being around each other," he said. "A lot of people come to work happy."
Donor Spence Eccles, who had the honor of doing the ribbon-cutting, spoke emotionally of his late wife and how she described herself as a "Ute and a half."
Like Hill and Whittingham, Eccles acknowledged the building should help the Utes reach a new level of success. Before he left the podium, Eccles reminded Whittingham that he remembers a "long drive back from Logan," a reference to the Utes' 27-20 loss to the Aggies.
Whittingham took the shot with good humor, but he knows the Utes are under pressure to perform better this year after 2012's 5-7 effort.
"The bar keeps getting raised higher and higher," he said.
Utah's new facility will help the Utes reach those standards because it makes everything easier on the team.
There are large, plush locker rooms, plenty of meeting areas, cafeterias and a comfortable player lounge with several large-screen TVs and games. The two-level observation deck overlooks the practice fields and the Salt Lake Valley. Inside, coaches have more than 47,000 square feet of office and meeting space.
Perhaps the gem of the facility is the training room, which features state-of-the-art equipment such as hydrotherapy pools, weight stations and numerous training tables.
Gone are the days when the trainers had to work out of 5-gallon buckets and rickety tables, said University of Utah President David W. Pershing.
"It's unbelievable," Whittingham added. "It's going to help us win this year."
The Utes' football facility is just a chunk of the $64.2 million the Utes have invested in upgrades as part of the move to the Pac-12. The Utes have designated $24 million for a basketball facility, $4.2 million for a new softball complex, $2.5 million for track upgrades and $1.5 million for an outdoor tennis facility.
Whittingham couldn't help but note the football stadium might be in line for some future upgrades. To that thought, Eccles replied, "W's."
The Utes have the building now all they need are the wins.
firstname.lastname@example.org By the numbers Eccles Football Center
Cost • $32 million
Size • 152,211 square feet
Player areas • 6,500 square feet of locker room space and a 3,600 square-foot players' lounge
Gem of the building • Sports medicine center is 17,000 square feet, featuring everything from weight stations to hydrotherapy pools