By Alex Forkner
For years, the Nutter training facility that houses all the needs of the UK football team could have been described as serviceable. It had all the necessary amenities: weight room, meeting rooms, the main locker room, but something was missing.
Last season, the team finished 5-7 and failed to make a bowl game, its worst result since 2005. The offense struggled, the defense buckled. Something was missing there, too.
After a two-week, $158,000 remodel of Nutter, the interior walls once a drab gray are plastered with blue and white murals, giant action shots of players, fight song excerpts aiming to inspire. The redecoration is the eighth football facility project in as many years, with others including new field surfaces and improved video boards and audio systems in Commonwealth Stadium.
No longer simply serviceable, the revamped Nutter facility has had an effect on the players.
“Part of competing in the SEC every year is having the facilities that look nice, and they really did a good job this year of being able to upgrade all this for us,” said senior center Matt Smith while giving reporters a tour of the facility. “It gives us a lot of hope and a lot of energy when we walk in here everyday.”
Style, pizzazz, swagger; call it what you want. It’s palpable when you step inside the building, and the renovation of Nutter could lead to a renovation of the team’s on-field performance.
First, sleeker facilities could attract high profile recruits, a fact not lost on Smith.
“The best part about this two-week renovation that they did to Nutter is it really gives us a good chance to recruit some good players,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good young guys that have come here that say that they love the way everything’s laid out.”
The redesign also features portraits of UK alums in uniform for their current NFL squads, as well as a wall of NFL helmets with lists of all the former Cats to grace the teams’ rosters. For senior wide receiver La’Rod King, walking down this hall is a daily dose of motivation.
“It gives you a chance to see guys who came before you. It’s just a great opportunity to see what you’re working for everyday.”
That’s another possible product of this renovation: a new attitude. Everywhere you look is a reminder of team goals: win the SEC East division, beat rival Tennessee again, avenge last year’s Louisville loss and bring the Governor’s Cup trophy back to Lexington. Three panels opposite the NFL wall detail the team’s “Operation: Win” motto, how they strive to win in the classroom, in the community and on the field. A couple more paces down the hall brings you to the bowl board, showing all the past visits and possible future destinations.
“Our biggest goal is being able to put new plaques down here at the bottom,” Smith said. “They’re giving us room, so we have to make sure we take advantage of that. Those are just great reminders of what we’re working for at the end of the year.”
Next to the season schedule featuring the logos of upcoming opponents, a wall serves as a collage of the greatest moments in Kentucky football history. Bear Bryant’s scowl is adjacent to a jubilant Rich Brooks, while Tim Couch launches a pass downfield. King, who spoke passionately about the redesign as he led the tour, hopes to add to this legacy.
“As seniors, we owe UK something,” he said. “I feel like I owe Big Blue Nation something; an SEC championship, a national championship, I owe them something. That’s what I’m striving for.”
KyForward photos by Jon Hale.