Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan has always been one of those stay-in-the-moment coaches whose focus is on today, the next practice or game, and nothing beyond.
But he’s made an exception to that personal unwritten rule over the past 12 months. He’s been taking peeks into the future, and doing it just about every weekday, usually more than once a day.
That’s OK, though. It’s perfectly fine. It’s certainly understandable and acceptable.
He’s been keeping a close eye on his new baby, his rapidly growing baby — the new baseball stadium, Florida Ballpark, under construction on the southwest edge of campus next to the lacrosse stadium and complex.
"I drive by every morning and every night,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s kind of a baseball superstition. I have to drive by it every morning and night regardless of the traffic.
“It’s coming along, it looks really nice. I just went by the other day and they’ve got the brackets in for the seats, and they’ll start putting in the seats now and I think the grass goes down next month. So, it’ll be done here before we know it."
Where just a year ago stood an open, grassy field with some scattered scrub brush and trees, a shiny new stadium is rising.
It’s not complete, yet. But you can see it now, the structure, and can tell what it’s going to be. It’s a visible glimpse into the future — and the future is right on schedule. The $65 million stadium should be complete by the end of June, putting the wraps on one of the two major projects in Phase 3 of UF’s 10-year Master Plan for facility upgrades.
The other, of course, is the $85 million, standalone football facility — the James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center. That project will get underway this summer once the baseball team has moved into its new home from McKethan Stadium, the site where the football facility will be built.
“We’re making good progress. They’re on track to finish (Florida Ballpark) by the completion date in June,” UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “Here sometime this month the seats will start being installed. The field goes in next month.
The Heavener Training Center work will begin in the summer and should take about 18 months, Stricklin said. And the team will move into it after the 2021 season ends and bowl or playoff games are over.
The University Athletic Association has set a private funding goal of $155 million for Phase 3 of the Master Plan. It hasn’t been reached yet, but the athletic department hopes to get across that financial finish line sometime this summer.
In 2019, the UAA passed the $100 million mark and fundraising continues, Stricklin said.
“The response has been great,” he said. “People who support our program have been really positive about the plan. They see the need.”
Heavener obviously sees the need. His significant donation, which hasn’t been disclosed, has had a major impact on funding for the standalone football facility.
“Huge,” Stricklin said.
“He’s such a positive individual. He’s the kind of guy you want around your program. We’re blessed to have people like that, whether it’s Gary Condron, Don Dizney or Gale Lemerand. People are really significant and impactful,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to have a guy like Bill Heavener continually step up for the Gators.”
Heavener is a longtime donor to the University of Florida and the UAA. The gift to the standalone football facility follows his commitments to the Heavener School of Business, Heavener Hall, the Heavener Football Complex, support of the athletic department’s video division (GatorVision) and an athletic department scholarship endowment.
Donors such as Heavener have been a giant help in fundraising. So has success on the field, Stricklin said.
O’Sullivan’s program is one of the elite in college baseball. And Dan Mullen appears to have the football program headed back in the same direction following back-to-back seasons of 10-3 and 11-2, capped off by victories in New Year’s Six bowl games and top-10 national finishes in the final polls.
“Winning in anything is important, but football has such an impact that it really makes a difference (in fundraising),” Stricklin said. “Winning 10 games a year ago, we saw that impact.
Two straight successful seasons in football “builds momentum and there’s a sense among Gator fans that we’re building toward something special,” Stricklin said.
The 140,000-square-foot football facility will be state of the art and include a dining facility, coaching office suites, locker room and meeting areas, a strength-and-conditioning center, an enhanced sports medicine facility with hydrotherapy and recreation space that includes an outdoor pool.
“It will have a huge impact (on the football program),” Stricklin said. “Every time you do something that significant, you want to make sure it’s designed in a smart way that will stand the test of time and make a long-term impact.”
Mullen and his players, along with recruits and fans, can view the future facility, thanks to a virtual reality video released by the school last season.
O’Sullivan and his players can do one better than that. They can actually see their new home now. They took a tour of Florida Ballpark two weeks ago.
The cement-and-steel structure has been completed and now the construction team has moved on to more detailed work. When finished, the stadium will feature a 360-degree open concourse and seating, shade structures for fans, modern player and staff amenities, increased capacity (10,000), multiple seating and game experience options, high-definition video and sound and enhanced concession space and options.
“We have a championship-caliber team and we have a championship-caliber fan base,” Stricklin said. “They just haven’t had that facility that matches those two, and we’re going to have that once this facility is complete.”
Stricklin said he believes the new baseball facility will draw beyond baseball fans, to those who just want to enjoy a spring day at a nice ballpark.
Although Phase 3 of the Master Plan will not be complete until the football facility is finished in late December 2021 or early January 2022, the UAA is already in the early stages of developing a plan for Phase 4, which will include upgrades in soccer and for The Swamp.
“Phase 4 will include a soccer clubhouse where the practice field is,” Stricklin said. “We’ll have some things we can do in The Swamp that we’re still ‘big picture’ on.”
Some of those upgrades might include more comfortable seating or better concourses, new audio and video boards, he said.
“It’s a pretty iconic venue. You want to make sure you maintain what makes it special while trying to make it as comfortable as possible for your fans.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.