Virginia Opens New Football Operations Center To Smiles

Virginia Cavaliers The Virginia Football Operations Center faces the practice fields to one side. ~ Photo by Kris Wright/TheSabre.com

Looking at some of the faces around a temporary tent on the Virginia football practice field in the vicinity of both the McCue Center and the new Football Operations Center, it demonstrated how many years have passed between the two buildings. Players came and went for 31 years in between grand openings while the college athletics arms race accelerated.

Finally, however, the Hoos opened the doors to a brand new facility on Thursday and it brought a lot of praise and appreciation with it. Virginia edge Chico Bennett Jr. said he saw “a lot of smiling faces, from one cheek to the other” as the school unveiled the football team’s new home. Speaker after speaker from Virginia Director of Athletics Carla Williams to UVA football coach Tony Elliott to University Rector Robert Hardie to current player Elijah Gaines spoke to those assembled about the necessary upgrade for the program and what it would mean to both current and future Cavaliers.

“I was wowed by it,” Bennett said. “I think it’s state of the art. Now we’re on the same level as the other … schools. I think it’s a great opportunity for other athletes coming in to say we’re … caught up and I think it’s a great opportunity. I was impressed by it. Excited to be able to finally move in. I think a lot of guys who have been here longer than me are happy to see it finally come to fruition.”

“It feels amazing,” UVA safety Antonio Clary said. “It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here and I’m excited for it. It looks very nice, the stuff inside is very nice so I’m excited to get to it and start working out in there.”

The stuff inside is all encompassing. The 93,000-square foot center hosts a large weight room, a team locker room, a team meeting room, individual position meeting rooms, a nutrition bar, a dining hall, a player’s lounge, and a sports medicine wing all dedicated to the development of the Virginia football program and its student-athletes. There are also coaches’ offices, a small media studio, a podcast room, a film room, and more.

Student-athletes now can enter the building for workouts, treatment, schoolwork, relaxation, or entertainment without ever needing to exit. In the case of strength training, the nutrition center and performance coaches are located directly adjacent to the equipment area with sports medicine just a few steps away. The team’s locker room sits near those areas as well with an exit leading directly to the George Welsh Practice Facility entrance just steps away.

“It’s awesome that we can get academics, football, recovery, nutrition all in the same spot,” Virginia kicker Will Bettridge said. “It’s just a blessing to finally see this through.”

Walls throughout the building honor the programs past with large photos of legendary moments and players in varying locations. In the individual meeting rooms, for example, photos of some of the all-time greats provide decoration and reminders for the players of what’s possible. Chris Slade, a current Cavalier coach and the ACC’s all-time sack leader, has a picture on the wall, for example.

The receivers room and the linebackers room have framed jerseys to honor the lives and careers of Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry, who lost their lives in an on-campus shooting while on the team. There’s also apparel on display with the uniforms bearing the numbers worn by those players, 1-15-41.

“I also think it was a nice tribute that they did for the three players, what they would have worn accessory wise and even in some of the position rooms they have their jerseys, which was a nice touch,” Bennett said.

Along the hallways, you can find other areas of tribute for retired numbers, NFL players, and future players of the week. There are motivational sayings in places like the locker room to remind everyone of the current vision and focus as well.

That’s true of the team’s meeting room as well where F.I.T – fast, intelligent, tough – and the Cavalier creed can be read. The creed reads: “Academics first! Be intentional with every class session and be engaged. Duty, honor, and respect in everything. Trust is earned daily. Pay the high cost of leadership. No job is too small! Finish what you start. I am my family’s keeper. Have appreciation and show gratitude.”

That room also features a door to a balcony that overlooks the practice fields below. It’s the type of setting that even someone like Clary has “never been in a meeting room like this” after spending most of his career holding position group and large team meetings in the indoor practice facility.

“There’s a big projector that comes down,” Clary said. “It’s huge. It goes up kind of like an auditorium seating, which is pretty cool so I’m definitely excited for that.”

Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia Cavaliers The main lobby and the locker room are some of the areas with small personal touches for the program and players.~ Photos by Kris Wright/TheSabre.com

Beyond those big spaces, there are also many small personal touches throughout the building. The weight room equipment contains small diamond cutouts as a nod to the end zones at Scott Stadium as well as a large V-Sabre on the ceiling. The main entrance contains a logo with diamond shaping along the stairway wall as well.

There is also a map with magnets representing the hometowns of all the current players, for example. Plus, the players have their individual photos above their lockers while the navy seating below has small orange stitching. That’s a touch that Virginia defensive lineman Ben Smiley III appreciated.

“The best thing to me would have to be my locker, my picture on my locker,” Smiley said. “I’ve got a picture in the McCue Center, but it’s like a little picture that you print out. Just looking up and being able to see myself each and every day, I feel like it gives me the motivation to get up and strive hard because I’ve worked hard to be in the position I’m in and I’m grateful to be in this position. I feel like it’ll give me the fuel each and every day to see and motivate myself in the hard times and the good times.”

It all adds up in a way to make quite the impression. The hope, of course, is that helps recruiting for the program, but also that it further pushes the development of players while they are in Charlottesville. With Tony Elliott trying to build what he describes as the “model program” where student-athletes develop both sides of that hyphen, the new Football Operations Center backs up that talk to a more visible degree than before.

It’s something that current players certainly appreciate and something that they think can help set the tone for the future years at Virginia.

“I think it just shows the trajectory the program’s on, even without the new building,” Virginia quarterback Tony Muskett said. “I can see that in the next couple of years, UVA is going to start having a lot of high level success and then you add this in and the recruits we’ll get, I think it’s really going to show in the near future.”

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