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Monday, July 4, 2022

Auburn hopes to make statement with new ‘gold standard’ football facility

When Allen Greene was introduced as Auburn’s athletics director on Jan. 19, 2018, one of the first things he was asked about was a dedicated football facility.

It was a project that had been discussed multiple times over the years, and one that was at the top of then-coach Gus Malzahn’s wishlist. Greene needed to get a better understanding of everything that came with his new title on the Plains, but he admitted that it was an idea that had already been discussed and that it was “a project we’re going to try to dig into a little bit deeper pretty soon.”

On Saturday morning, Greene, Auburn president Jay Gogue and a group that also included Tigers linebacker Owen Pappoe dug deeper — literally — during a groundbreaking ceremony on the future site of Auburn’s Football Performance Center. Construction for the state-of-the-art facility began in March, shortly after Rabren General Contractors was awarded the contract for the project, but a formal dedication ceremony was held on-site Saturday, just two weeks ahead of Auburn’s season-opening game against Akron.

“This is the largest athletics project that has been undertaken,” Greene said. “…This is grand in scale. So, while this ceremony may be a little bit small, a little bit intimate, know that the impact is incredibly large.”

The 233,400-square foot facility is estimated to cost $92 million, and while construction was originally set to be completed by July 2022, Greene said Saturday that they expect the Football Performance Center to open in the next 12-15 months — putting the timeline for completion between August and November 2022.

The facility, which will sit on a 12-acre site that previously housed the old Hutsell Track, will include two full-size outdoor practice fields, a 95,000-square foot indoor practice facility, weight room, players’ locker room, a players’ lounge called “The Huddle,” a barbershop, two recording studios, a flight simulator and team meeting rooms. It will also have offices for coaches and football administrators, serve as the new home to Auburn’s sports medicine and nutrition programs, the equipment department — with Greene describing it as more of a “laboratory” for associate athletics director Dana Marquez and his staff — as well as a 50-person hydrotherapy plunge pool, an indoor teaching lab and laundry space.

When we talk about gold standard, it truly is the gold standard,” Greene said.

Executive associate athletics director Tim Jackson, who was a graduate assistant at Auburn in 1989 when the current athletics complex first opened and was lauded as ahead of its time, said the new Football Performance Center will be “mind-blowing” and help the Tigers compete for championships. Gogue, meanwhile, described the facility as a “dream come true” after nearly five years of discussions.

That dream is becoming a reality for Auburn thanks largely to more than $40 million in donations. According to Greene, 43 families contributed at least $100,000 to the project, while 10 families donated at least $500,000 and two made contributions in excess of $5 million. There was also the $10 million donation from Walt and Ginger Waltosz, which represented the largest donation in Auburn athletics history.

“Some of you have dug deep, really deep, at a time, during the COVID-19 crisis, which we’re still in, to invest in people like Owen (Pappoe) and our student-athletes and the future of Auburn football, Auburn athletics and Auburn University,” Greene said. “…So, that tells me that football is important. Somehow it just means more.”

While the primary purpose of the Football Performance Center, according to Greene, is the student-athlete experience and making them feel at home, considering how much time they will spend inside its walls, the new facility will undoubtedly have an impact on the future of the football program, especially when it comes to recruiting.

Pappoe — a former five-star recruit who was recruited by and took visits to major programs like Georgia, Penn State, Texas, LSU, Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma, among others — said “there hasn’t been anything like” Auburn’s Football Performance Center.

“You don’t win in this league without recruiting,” Greene said. “Regardless of what sport you play, you’ve got to recruit, and this facility is going to help us do that. It doesn’t change the game per se 100 percent, but it puts us in the ballpark. The fact that we have such a beautiful campus, that we have such beautiful people and that we have such an investment in football, sends a signal. We’re here to win championships. Coach Harsin’s here to win championships, and this facility speaks to that…. We understand that winning is incredibly important. It’s a three-letter word that means a whole heck of a lot. We do not diminish that not one bit. We also have a responsibility to our 550 student-athletes to help develop them, to help grow them, to help make sure that they are Auburn women and Auburn men.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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