July 1, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech football is hoping for a turnaround season in 2011.
They’ll have a constant reminder of what is possible in less than a year from which to draw inspiration simply looking around them.
On Friday morning, the John and Mary Brock Football Practice Facility was unveiled to the media and a select group that included Athletic Director Dan Radakovich, Head Football Coach Paul Johnson, linebacker Steven Sylvester and defensive tackle T.J. Barnes, Project Manager Jason McFadden of the construction firm Barton Malow, Joe Knight, of Knight Architects (Tech mascot, Buzz, also was on hand). While the inside is still undergoing some work, what has been accomplished in the building’s construction is something to behold.
“This whole thing was really a little bit of a dream a year ago at this point in time,” said Radakovich. “But then John and Mary Brock came forward with a lead gift and great cooperation from our campus and our architects and contractors really has made this a reality. It’s been one of the most effective and efficient building projects I’ve been around.”
Located right behind the left field foul pole at Russ Chandler Stadium, the 88,000 square-foot facility is 228 feet wide, and 65 feet tall at its highest point. Some unique features are a camera tower on the east wall, which can be used by coaches and the staff inside or outside, and cameras located on the north and south walls which can be controlled from the East wall.
In addition, efficiency in energy use as far as lighting the facility and in water use as far as irrigation were important. New lighting fixtures were installed, with 10 light fixtures per pole, down from 32, while as far as irrigation, there is a 280,000-gallon cistern for drought periods. That’s enough water to irrigate the field, Russ Chandler Stadium and the infield of the George C. Griffin Track and Field facility.
These accoutrements as well as the facility’s location on the Tech campus is something that ideally will help lift Georgia Tech into a serious player on the college football stage.
“This puts us on par with other schools in the South and maybe even a little ahead of the game as it relates to other folks we recruit against,” said Radakovich. “But this is first and foremost for our student-athletes here in allowing our coaches and staff to be effective and efficient in their preparation for football games.”
To that end, an important facet of the facility is the ability of the Yellow Jackets to avoid being at the mercy of the often unpredictable Atlanta weather.
“I think just making it easier for us to function is the biggest thing,” said Johnson. “The weather here, it’s not so much the rain as it is the thunderstorms and lightening. Just to have this place to go while we’re practicing and have access to both fields should be a tremendous help.”
“The Brock” is right next to the newly surfaced outdoor practice field and allows a quick escape from the elements via the six aircraft hanger doors along the east wall. Each of the doors is 30 feet wide and 12 feet high.
“The thought process there is how do we move an offensive unit and a defensive unit back and forth between the indoor and outdoor field very quickly?” said McFadden. “There’s your answer. The hanger doors are what we decided on. We think they’re going to be an asset not only to the football program in spring practice but during the summer to move a lot of people in and out quickly.”
Safety was the primary concern but keeping the continuity of the practice is a nice benefit.
“It keeps us focused,” Sylvester said. “We’re in here, we’re locked in on football. You’re not worried about what’s going on outside, noises, cars that are going by. You can just really focus in on football. It will be huge for us.”
“When it rains, instead of waiting for 30 minutes, we can just come in here and get back into it instead of sitting there and letting practice drag on,” agreed Barnes. “When you take a 30 to 45 minutes break, your body doesn’t feel the same as going back into a hard practice.”
Then there’s the convenience of not having to pack up and take everything on the road, be it the short trip to the Georgia Dome or the trek to the Atlanta Falcons’ facility in Flowery Branch.
“It was just the hassle to try to get everybody on the bus, get everybody here on time,” said senior linebacker Sylvester. “But we’re here now, it’s on campus. So we can practice, we can do whatever we need to do right here at home.”
The commitment of the administration to get the project done should also bear fruit as far as getting athletes to commit to Tech. The facility could have potential signees right away, as entrance to the facility leads to a viewing area where they can watch practice. There will also be a connecting staircase should they want to venture down to get a field-level view.
“It will be nice,” said Johnson. “If kids want to come to practice, the parents can hang out. They can set up here and watch and the kids can get down on the field and get as close as they need to. it’s a huge plus in recruiting,” said Johnson. “Most programs our size have indoor facilities. Recruiting is a big part of it.”
Sylvester and Barnes admit they’ve already tried to point potential recruits Tech’s way by pointing to the facility and the school’s commitment.
“I’ve told a couple of recruits that want to come here, people from back home that have aspirations of going to college,” said Barnes, who is from Enterprise, Ala. “I tell them, ‘We’re an up and coming program, with an indoor facility. So this might be a good place to come to.’
“I would have asked Coach Johnson where the letter of intent was right then,” said Sylvester, with a laugh when asked how he would have reacted to seeing the facility as a recruit. “I’ve talked to a couple of guys. I said, ‘It’s going to be here for us. It’s ours. Nobody else really has access to it except the football team. So it’s exclusive for us.”
Radakovich credits Tech’s alumni for making the project and others like it happen.
“We have the greatest alumni in the country as it relates to showing them a need, identifying how we want to fix that need and then asking them for their support,” he said. “This has gone through with the Zelnak Basketball Practice Facility, with McCamish Pavilion, certainly the Brock Practice Facility and the [Ken] Byers Tennis [Complex]. We’ve been very, very fortunate as it relates to making our case to people who have a real desire to give back to Georgia Tech.”
Now it’s up to the football team. But Radakovich insists that a new facility should not necessarily add to expectations.
“I don’t know that on-field expectations ever change,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we give our folks the right tools in the tool box to be as successful as we want them to be.”