Hogs Set To Open New Weight Room Facility

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Don Decker's hands have been on the project since the beginning.

He gathered ideas from close friends, developed a wish list, studied other designs and batted around concepts with athletic department personnel. So Decker, who is in his 13th year with the Razorbacks, saw what Arkansas' new weight room would look like and believed it was something special.

But Decker's first look at the completed product nearly knocked him off his feet.

"When you look at it on paper, in the blueprints, you kind of get in mind what you think it's going to be," Decker said. "Then you walk up here and you're physically in the place. I never dreamed it was going to be this large. It's awesome."

Decker said that has been a common word to describe the 34,000-square foot, $3.5 million facility that stretches 100 yards long and about 52 feet wide. After nearly a year of construction, the facility is scheduled to open today when the Arkansas football team returns to campus and kicks off its offseason program.

The unique, three-level building, which has been added onto the Walker Indoor Pavilion, is roughly 2 1/2 times the size of Arkansas' old weight room on the lower level of the Broyles Center.

It is loaded with new equipment, state-of-the-art technology and interesting concepts, leaving associate athletics director Jerry Pufall, who is in charge of facilities, to describe it as the ultimate training ground for Arkansas' athletes.

"When you would come here on a recruiting visit and see our (old) weight room, it was comparable to a large high school," Pufall said. "It really wasn't major Division I. But when you first see (the new weight room), it just really has a tremendous impact on you. The whole concept of what's there is far beyond our expectations.

"We thought we were onto a very unique design, but never really envisioned how positive it would turn out."

Decisions, Decisions
Decker said the idea for a new facility was first discussed at the end of Nutt's first season at Arkansas in 1998. For some time, Decker, Pufall, Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles and other athletic department personnel considered ideas.

The first centered on adding to the old room in the Broyles Center, but Pufall said the concept required the construction of a second level and would've been problematic. A second plan was to build a facility on the artificial surface in the lower level of the Broyles Center, but the Hogs didn't want to lose the area where they warm up, meet and prepare before taking the field on gameday.

"We didn't have what I thought we needed," said Broyles, who pondered the location for more than a year. "So I didn't build anything. I wasn't happy with any of them. I just couldn't make up my mind that any of them were satisfactory.

"I've just learned not to do anything until I'm convinced."

Broyles, Nutt and Decker became convinced when Pufall presented the plan that was decided upon, suggesting the Razorbacks build the new facility onto the pre-existing Walker Indoor Pavilion. They didn't want to move the hub of Arkansas' offseason program away from the Broyles Center -- where the coaches offices, locker rooms and meeting rooms are located -- but warmed up to the idea of an all-around training facility south of Razorback Stadium.

To preserve the 100-yard length of Arkansas' two outdoor practice fields, the three-story facility could only be supported at one end, known as a cantilever design. Arkansas hired a Fayetteville-based architectural company and a small contingent went on tours of other weight rooms at Kansas and Oklahoma.

The overall planning process took a lot of thought and several months, but Broyles said it has been well worth the wait.

"Jerry came to me with this grandiose plan and he convinced me that it would be special," Broyles said. "And believe it or not, it has turned out four times better than what we thought. It is a knockout. It has so much there."

Grandiose Plan
Decker said the most difficult task in the old weight room was scheduling workouts for hundreds of athletes because of cramped quarters and a limited amount of equipment. But the new weight room is 18,000 square feet and stretches the length of a football field, leaving plenty of room and equipment to work.

One third of the room is filled with a 24 new racks where athletes will be able to do bench presses, squats and power lifts. There's also ample space for dumbbells, machine work and circuit training that fills another third. The final third of the weight room is a cardiovascular area.

The room is surrounded in glass -- making it feel much bigger -- so players can see the two outdoor practice fields and artificial field in the Indoor Pavilion while they work. Arkansas logos are everywhere --customized dumbbells, weight plates, platforms and on the floors. The facility also houses the weight room staff offices, an information center and a nutrition room.

The second level houses the facility's machine room and will be used for storage, but includes a makeshift training room that will be convenient for practices.

On the field level, Arkansas installed three, 60-yard lanes of a track rubber that'll be used for sprints. Alongside is a strip of sand that also will be used for sprints. The lower level also includes an artificial surface designated for agility drills.

"This wasn't something we just sat down and said, 'Let's draw this up,'" Decker said. "We researched it. We went to other places. We looked at different things. I sent the plans to several other strength coaches I respect in the business. I took all their ideas, all my ideas and has been a combination of a lot of thought processes."

Awesome Building
But perhaps the most impressive items are the 12, 42-inch television screens and cameras that are mounted in between the 24 racks.

Arkansas purchased technological equipment and a software package that will videotape lifts, then allow players to press a button to replay it on television screens. Decker, who listed Rutgers as the only program he knows that has the same software, said it gives Arkansas the ability to analyze lifts, track bar speeds and offer split screen views of correct and incorrect technique.

"It's going to be an awesome building," said Nutt, who believes the weight room will be a key tool in the Razorbacks' recruiting efforts. "Coach Broyles has given us that tool to have the best in the country.

"But as nice as it is, what's important is the sweat that comes out of that room, the hard work and commitment to be the strongest, fastest player you can be."

Decker agreed and said the new facility will give Arkansas ample space, equipment and technology it needs to help athletes become bigger, faster and stronger.

For that, Decker emphasized how grateful he was for everyone involved in the completion of the project.

"Any time you're doing a project you don't want to walk in when it's completed and say, 'I wish I would've done this or would've done that,'" Decker said. "To this point, I haven't heard one person say, 'Boy, this is neat but you know what would've really topped this off?' I haven't heard on person say that.

"It's everything you could want. That is a tribute to a lot of great people."

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