Beginning this season, when Arizona State players take the field at Sun Devil Stadium they'll do so by passing a statue of Pat Tillman.
With the opening of its Student Athlete Facility in 2017, ASU is moving the Tillman Tunnel to the north side of the stadium. In doing so it saw an opportunity to further embrace the legacy of Tillman with an optical reminder of how his spirit shapes the character goals of the program as set by Sun Devil coach Todd Graham.
ASU players will walk from their locker room down a shallow ramp through the Tillman Tunnel, which will be partly formed by legacy Sun Devil players in attendance, and onto the playing surface. The statue of Tillman will be visible to them as they come onto the field, and appear to be leading them on their path as it gazes toward the north end zone.
Players will be able to touch the statue of Tillman as they run onto the field.
Several stories over their heads, a newly erected video board that measures 180 feet by 60 feet, with speaker clusters on either side that measure 60 feet by 20 feet, will announce their presence with a thundering sound previously unmatched in Sun Devil Stadium history.
“This is going to completely change the gameday atmosphere is having a state of the art video board like that, especially the size and the location, it’s pretty cool that it’s located in the north end right above Tillman Tunnel and right above our complex," Graham said during a media tour of the new venue on Wednesday.
The biggest changes won't be visible to ASU fans at Sun Devil Stadium, however.
The players who take the field for the Sun Devils will do so out of a gleaming, brand new 118,669 square foot facility that includes more than 100,000 square feet of football-specific space and cost dozens of millions of dollars.
ASU will take ownership of the completed facility around July 15, and immediately be able to benefit from its 5,750 square foot locker room, 1,542 square foot players' lounge, 5,387 square foot sports medicine area, 9,813 square foot weight room, and so much more.
The size of the space completely dwarfs ASU's existing facilities, which are located on the third floor and in the basement of ASU's Carson Center Student-Athlete facility on the south side of the stadium.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity when you get a chance to do this," Graham said. "And also too one of the most important things I’ve learned and really emphasized is how this came about is with donor support. I’m so grateful that we didn’t even start this until after 2013 and that means start fundraising and start having the vision for this and (ASU co-chair of stadium project) Jack Furst, his leadership.
"A lot of great donors and supporters have provided this for us. This is something when I came here, I knew we were behind and needed to do some things and put ourself in position where we could build something special with a championship-caliber program and I wanted to make sure, this would not be here if not for the awesome donor support that we have. People stepping up, unprecedented as far as their support for ASU and ASU Athletics.”
Even though the building is still months from completion, the spaciousness and functionality of the facility were immediately obvious to reporters as they walked through the building's two primary floors on Wednesday. But it's the technology that will really be able to set the Sun Devils apart from a lot of their peers. It's an area that Graham felt ASU was clearly behind on in recent years.
There is full team meeting room theater with tiered seating up to 167 people, and every position group has a meeting room in which life size video up to seven and a half feet tall will be able to be displayed. The belief is, players will be more engaged and learn in a way that is quicker and more realistic.
“So we can project the images on the wall, it can be life size, so I can run 50 blitzes at them and they can stand there and pick up the blitzes in the meeting room with low impact on their body, not out in the heat, and obviously we have to maximize our time," Graham said." Technology is a huge piece in that and we’re very limited. When we first got here, we didn’t even have the same video technology as 11 other schools in our league so we’ve come a long way from that standpoint. There won’t be a more innovative teaching facility that I know of anywhere that will surpass what we’re able to do here.”
Players will have a huge video wall in the ASU locker room and individual cubicles modeled after the Dallas Cowboys lockers in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The players lounge is immediately adjacent, as is a barber area, a nutrition bar, and physical therapy and sports medicine areas. There will be a plunge pool that can fit as many as 30 players at a time, and other recovery features including hydrotherapy and underwater treadmills.
We’ve got their video wall in there which is pretty unique," Graham said of the locker area. "We wanted something very unique and being the No. 1 university in innovation, that was something, the technology piece, being innovative about how we did the locker room was important. And this to me is the most important thing in the building, the players’ sanctuary.”
Everything is done in consideration of recruiting, as Graham pointed out repeatedly during the 90 minute tour. From how the training table space becomes something recruits and their families can experience on game days, to the visual reference to ASU's NFL tradition in the main lobby, to the so-called "closing room" which is a 370 square foot secondary office for the head coach overlooking the field below the large video board.
“We’ll have our final meeting with all of our recruits that come on campus and we think we’ll leave a pretty strong impression with where its located," Graham said. "It’s something that is different because most places, you step in the head coaches office and you have my desk and a lot of times you’re working and I wanted a working area and then I wanted an area where we could really make it a family atmosphere where we could project the last opportunity we’ll get on official visits. This is a pretty special area here.
“Every area of our program is going to be impacted. Obviously the kitchen, the second floor, the training table, it’s a game-changer for us and how we operate. Obviously how we take care of our players, how we educate and take care of our players. And obviously I think honoring the past is something that’s very important to us and how it’s going to activate the future. It’s a game-changer for us in every area.”