Greg Hansen: Lowell-Stevens football facility is epic

Sneak peek of $74M 'spaceship' shows UA serious about football
2013-07-31T00:00:00Z 2013-07-31T09:40:12Z Greg Hansen: Lowell-Stevens football facility is epicGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Under another Tucson summer sun, under another coaching staff, the final days of July would've been a fiasco for Arizona's football program.

Three incoming players essentially flunked out. A potential starting defensive back was charged with a felony drug crime. A coveted offensive linemen left school before taking a snap.

Worse, the Wildcats were listed among the also-rans at Pac-12 media day.

But within minutes of entry to the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, it was as if I had been transported to a college football blend of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.

On the day the UA coaching staff officially returned from a brief summer vacation, the first of what was likely to be four months of work without a day off, director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel Matt Dudek rose from his desk and pronounced it to be "an epic day."

At Arizona Stadium, July 2013 is unlike any July dating to 1977, the year the school built an upper deck, added 20,000 seats and announced it would be moving from the WAC to the Pac-10.

The mood is such that UA coach Rich Rodriguez was talking about a recent day in which he was 1 under par at the Stone Canyon Golf Club, a potential career round, only to be rained out at the eighth hole.

"I probably won't be able to play again this year," he said. "But that's OK. This is all good."

The coach motioned from his office door down a hallway that appeared to be 100 yards long. He shook his head. It's all good.

In the scope of college football, the Lowell-Stevens facility breaks par, that's for sure.

If Arizona is ever going to fully reboot its football program, if it is ever going to go forth and multiply, this is likely to be the start of it. You don't spend $74 million to play .500 football.

Over the weekend, Rodriguez and his staff did something surely unparalleled in UA football history. They played host to about 25 high school players whom they had offered scholarships. That just doesn't happen; Tucson and UA football has never been a destination for elite high school prospects, especially in July.

They were showing off, and when have the Wildcats ever been able to do that?

Internally, they called it the Red Carpet weekend. To those outside the LSFF walls, it might as well be known as the Magic Carpet Ride. UA received six commitments since Saturday and already has 20 players pledged as part of its February 2014 recruiting class. In some years, especially since Dick Tomey departed a dozen years ago, the July commitment list would be closer to three or four.

This isn't easy now, and it never will be. As Arizona's players and coaches walk with wonder through the $74 million, five-story, football-only plant, the competition intensifies.

Oregon just debuted a $68million football facility that includes a player's-only barber shop and appointments so gaudy that the rugs were hand-woven in Nepal. It's excess, obviously, but it's too late to stop now.

Utah this month opened a $34million football building with an 11,000-square foot cafeteria. "You can't underestimate its impact," UteS coach Kyle Wittingham said at Pac-12 media day.

A few weeks ago I watched a five-minute video tour of Utah's new facility, and the wow factor was such that I told myself it had to be superior to anything UA was about to unveil. But I was way off.

Arizona has built a better "spaceship." (Do you realize every player's locker stall has an individual ventilation system? It won't smell like a gym, that's for sure.)

Look, every Pac-12 team, even determined and money-spending Washington State, will soon have what Arizona now has. Every team in the league will have hydro-therapy pools, auditoriums with E-Z chairs for 100 players, a suite with touch-screen computers strictly for NFL scouts and an on-site food service with on-demand chefs.

Over the weekend, embattled Penn State produced a video of its reconstructed football facility and claimed it to be "the nation's best."

With Lowell-Stevens as an example, dozens of BCS schools will be able to claim "the best," and it won't create an argument. How do you separate terrific from wonderful?

Even slow-to-react Arizona State will ultimately re-do its football plant the way Arizona, Utah, Oregon, USC and Washington did this year. Colorado has announced the intention to spend $170 million to get in the race.

Arizona has just begun to ride the wave in a game that has become a perennial cycle of one-upping one another.

Since RichRod and athletic director Greg Byrne formed a partnership 20 months ago, they have set a pace unprecedented in Arizona football. It has a new home, a new practice field, new turf, new colors, including copper (don't underestimate the value of style and color to potential recruits), and it has scheduled a game in Phoenix.

It is Tomorrowland today.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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