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By LARRY VAUGHT
Perhaps it was a mere coincidence that one day after ESPN.com writer Chris Low rated Kentucky’s football facilities 13th out of 14 Southeastern Conference teams, UK officials showed off changes made to the Nutter Training Facility Thursday.
Walls have been painted a vibrant blue, white and silver and are emblazoned with “Operation: Win” slogans, words from the UK fight song or images of current and past players. One wall shows all UK’s players in the NFL. There is a graphic laying out the Kentucky’s bowl history.
Center Matt Smith first got to see the changes after returning from a mission trip to Ethiopia with coach Joker Phillips and teammates Mikie Benton and Larry Warford.
‘It just blew us away. I was in here left and right taking pictures of everything and going home and showing my family,” said Smith Thursday.
Low was not quite as blown away even though he really had nothing negative to say about UK’s football facilities. Instead, he probably was realistic in his approach that there are no poor facilities in the SEC, including Kentucky or 14th-rated Vanderbilt. Every SEC school upgrades facilities — UK has had eight in eight years including new locker rooms and playing surface at Commonwealth Stadium, new indoor practice turf, upgraded outdoor practice facility with stadium lights, and new team meeting rooms at the practice facility.
Low considered stadium, locker room, weight room, training room, team meeting room, indoor practice complex, coaches’ offices and academic learning center along with how nice they were, how new they were and whether or not they were all self-contained to make life easier for the players when ranking the SEC team facilties.
Here’s what he wrote about Kentucky: “The Nutter Training Facility has been Kentucky’s football home since 1987. New practice fields were added in 2005, and the complex is highlighted by a 9,000-square foot weight room and new locker room. The Nutter Field House includes a 100-yard practice field, and Commonwealth Stadium has a new locker room complex as well as new video boards and audio system.”
What matters most is what impact the facilities have on recruiting. But for a team coming off a 5-7 season with low outside expectations going into this season, the changes UK made to spruce up the training facility could help team morale/chemistry.
“They spent a lot of money and a lot of time doing this. It’s really awesome that the coaches are doing this for us…It shows a huge commitment,” Smith said. “We’ve really talked to the seniors about stepping things up. We don’t want another season like last year. We felt we got too comfortable.”
Got too comfortable? That’s a scary thought considering UK was coming off a 6-7 2010 season, but yet that’s exactly the way the team played — uninspired and like it thought it was better than anyone else thought it was. That attitude doomed UK to a mediocre 2011 and hopefully that mistake won’t be repeated.
That’s why the facilities upgrades are nice, but what will be much more important in 2012 will be an effort upgrade by those who put on the blue and white to play for coach Joker Phillips.