ATHENS -- At the end of the first half of Saturday’s season opener, Kirby Smart started to do what Georgia coaches have done for more than 60 years – head to the locker room on the east end of Sanford Stadium.
“I did get a little confused there at the end of the half,” Smart said, “… before I realized why everybody was going the other way.”
Georgia used its massive new locker room and recruiting lounge on the west end of the stadium for the first time Saturday. On Monday afternoon, a few media members toured the $63 million structure built behind and below the west end-zone stands.
The 5,400-square-foot locker room is double the size of its aged predecessor on the east end of the stadium. The 95 individual lockers are spacious and feature dramatic back-lighting. Team mantras, such as “ATTACK THE DAY” and “COMPOSURE”, adorn the walls in large capital letters above the lockers. A gigantic lighted “G” logo is incorporated into the ceiling in the middle of the room.
A separate locker room is shared by the assistant coaches. Smart has his own room, which was locked during Monday’s tour. There’s also a physicians’ exam room, an X-ray room and shower facilities.
Players exit -- or enter -- the locker room through a short hallway and a tunnel that extends to the west end zone.
Until Saturday, the Bulldogs had come onto the field from the east end of Sanford Stadium since at least the 1950s and maybe before that as well. UGA officials haven’t been able to confirm for certain about the 1940s and earlier. The stadium opened in 1929.
One floor above the new locker room, a 10,574-square-foot recruiting hospitality lounge is Georgia’s latest weapon in college football’s facilities arms race.
Used for hosting prospects and their guests before, during and after games, the sprawling space is set up with dozens of tables and no shortage of TV screens, some as large as 95 inches. In an entry area, a scrolling LED display screen delivers a not-so-subtle message to recruits: the names of recent Georgia players drafted by the NFL and, in some cases, their cumulative career contract values. Among the scrolling data: Matthew Stafford $262,278,969; Justin Houston $104,547,248; A.J. Green $89,864,098; and the earnings of a half-dozen other former Bulldogs.
Two major pieces of hardware from last season, the SEC championship trophy and the Rose Bowl trophy, also are on display for recruits. And of course the advice “Commit to The G” is prominently displayed.
The doors and windows between the recruiting lounge and the west end-zone seats are equipped with glass that, at the push of a button, can be made clear or opaque. The reason: There’s an NCAA rule that prohibits schools from allowing recruits to watch games in “premium seating,” which the hospitality lounge would be considered if the game could be seen from there.
So during games the glass is made foggy to block the action from view. Recruits and their guests instead can watch the games from seats conveniently located outside behind the west end zone or on the TV screens inside.
The $63 million project also included a large new entry plaza for fans and a new video board 33 percent larger than its predecessor. Construction began in April 2017 and was completed last month.
> MORE: To see more of the Bulldogs’ new locker room and recruiting lounge, check out Chip Towers’ video blog on DawgNation.
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