New $85M football facility getting rave reviews: UF players have their own piece of heaven

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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Florida’s new football facility opened to glowing reviews last week, and why not?

Between the cryotherapy chambers, sauna, barber shop, basketball court, virtual reality room, motion-lit hallways, HydroWorx pools, game room, float tank, basketball court and plunge pool, there’s a lot for a young man to like.

Still, something doesn’t smell quite right.

The epicenter of the place is the locker room. That’s where players can be the masters of their own little domains and do what jocks have done for eons.

Stink.

Not the actual players, per se, but their surroundings. Despite the best efforts of scientists, engineers and Febreze, locker rooms can’t escape what they are.

That’s what makes this one so weird.

“It doesn’t smell like a locker room,” Chip Howard said.

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Chip Howard, the executive associate athletics director for internal affairs at the University of Florida, leads a media tour of the new Heavener Football Training Facility, on the UF campus, in Gainesville, Aug. 22, 2022.

As UF’s executive associate athletics director for internal affairs, Howard is the man who largely oversaw the long-awaited project. The red brick building is officially dubbed the James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center, though its nickname might become "The 7th Heavener."

Football powers have been trying to out-swank each other for the past decade, ever since Nike founder Phil Knight built a Ritz-Carlton to lure recruits to Oregon. Critics always are appalled at the excess, and it is off-putting to see student-athletes floating down lazy rivers and getting foot massages while playing blackjack at the players-only casino.

The Gators now have their bells and whistles, but they’re stressing the overall functionality that $85 million has bought.

“Time,” Billy Napier said. “No. 1 to me is time.”

All 43,928 aspects of the coach's program are now efficiently located under one roof. And at the heart of it all is the locker room.

“I might go recline in my locker and close my eyes for about 30 minutes before practice,” Trent Whittemore said.

The locker room seen on the Gator players' tour of the James W. "Bill" Heavener Football Training Center on Aug. 14, 2022 in Gainesville.

From what I can tell, he might never come out. The public/media haven’t gotten in yet, but sources and infrared satellite imagery reveal a locker setup from an advanced football civilization.

The floor is a rich blue carpet and the ceiling is bathed in an orange glow. In between are white lockers with black chairs, though that hardly begins to describe the football feng shui.

The chairs are like first-class seats on an airplane — thickly padded monsters that recline into beds.

“Zero-gravity chairs,” Howard said.

They’re so comfy you can envision 400-pound Desmond Watson blissfully levitating in his pod. That’s a better name for the contraptions since they came in two-locker pods from Longhorn Lockers Co. in Venus, Texas.

There’s a console separating the chairs. To the side, players have a table area that automatically recharges their phones.

There’s a bench area for storage, topped by a closet topped by a nook for helmets. Above that is a small billboard with the player's name and picture done up in lights.

Florida likes to tout being one of four original Jordan brand schools, so there’s a blue Jumpman logo on the doors that acts as handles.

Each locker is equipped with Normatec air compression boots that, according to the website, use “biomimicry to replicate the natural muscle pumps and one-way valves of the legs.”

Biomimicry?

The football meeting room at the new Heavener Football Training Facility, on the University of Florida campus, in Gainesville, seen Aug. 22, 2022.

Locker room so advanced it doesn't smell like a locker room

It’s safe to say Bear Bryant wasn’t worried about biomimicry when he was ordering lockers from the S&H Green Stamps catalog. Back then, if three-a-days in 110-degree heat didn’t kill you, the ensuing aroma might.

You take dirty socks, jerseys, pants, jockstraps, helmets, pads, athletic tape, towels and other accoutrements. Bathe them in sweat. Add steam and humidity from nearby showers. Throw in a hint of Bengay and clogged toilet. Allow to ferment, and voila!

Eau De Locker Room.

Not in 7th Heavener. The compartments for cleats, pads and helmets have drying fans that suck the stench through ducts and into the atmosphere, where it will probably destroy the ozone and lead to a worldwide climate catastrophe.

But hey, it’s great to be a Florida Gator.

“The ventilation with our pads,” Trey Dean said. “It’s really state-of-the-art.”

It sure ain’t like the old days, when players would stuff their dirty laundry in fishnet-type bags and hang them up in their lockers. Some used the bags as pillows when they stretched out on a bench for a quick nap. That alone might explain Danny Wuerffel’s premature baldness.

What would the old guard think of the new place? They’re welcome to find out.

Along with 135 Longhorn-produced lockers, UF installed a dozen oak ones that former players can use if they want to work out. You’ll excuse them if they wander over to try out a zero-gravity chair or a little biomimicry.

And in case you’re wondering, each locker cost about $15,000.

Is it worth it?

Players and coaches and recruiting gurus would say yes. Critics would say schools need to get their priorities straight.

When it comes to the Heavener Center, one thing will be as plain as the nose on your face.

No one person — not even Georgia fans — can ever say the place stinks.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.

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