TAYLOR: Locker rooms provide incentive

Keenan Burton was impressed with the locker room facilities at LP Field in Nashville during Kentucky's appearance in the Music City Bowl last December. His first glance at the team's revamped football locker room at the Nutter Practice Facility took him back in time.

"Ours is just like that," Burton said. "We have a professional, state-of-the-art locker room and that means a lot. Everybody aspirations to play at that next level, but here, it feels like you're already there."

Prior to the season, the school unveiled locker room upgrades to the practice facility. The previous lockers had been in place since the building was built nearly 20 years ago.

The number of lockers, which are made of oak, were reduced from 156 to 130, to make room for the modern set. The upgraded version features an electrical outlet, a padded seating bench, not to mention more storage space. The room also is more user friendly and televisions that are used as message centers. Upgraded shower and bathroom facilities also have been installed in the facility.

The cost of the upgrade was $590,000 and money from the Music City Bowl and private donations were used to fund the project.

"It's (a) better experience to come into a nice, open, well-equipped locker room, having the space and not being jammed against the guy next to him," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "This is just a much better feeling walking into this room than the old one. The old one was great, but it was 20 years old."

Brooks said the upgrades were "a heck of a way to start out the season."

"We obviously have more storage, which is more usable for our equipment," he said. "It's just more functional as well as attractive. This is a first-class facility. This will help us move forward with this program."

As a former assistant and head coach in the NFL, Brooks knows the importance of making progress and said the facility matches those of the professional ranks and collegiate circles. "It's interesting because the NFL locker room started to make transitions in the early to mid-90s, because before that they weren't even as good as college locker rooms," the Kentucky coach said. "I was in that league in the 70s, so I know where I speak from. Now, this locker room, with the space that we have, is as good as any in college football."

Brooks said the players have taken notice of the improvements and said the new look will help improved the team's morale.

"I think they certainly have to feel good about having things fixed up for them," he said. "I really think for what they do for this program, for what they have done particularly last year, this is in some sense a reward for them as they continue to guide our program upward."

Senior Wesley Woodyard said the improvements serve as an added motivation to work harder.

"Once you see something like this it really makes you want to continue to go out there and work hard, because this makes you feel like you've accomplished something," he said.

Burton agreed with his classmate.

"It means a lot because of the hard work you put on the field and all the work that goes on behind the scenes," he said. "So, if they are doing all that for us it just makes you want to work harder. You want to work harder on the field, but it's a chance for us to reap the benefits off of it."

Burton added that the changes since he first arrived on campus are like "night and day." "We had great facilities before but now they even stepped up even better," he said.

Brooks said the facility also will help when it comes to recruiting.

"It's going to go a long way in helping us keep our program on the upward swing," he said.

Brooks said the revamped locker room is the first step in improving the entire facility. "This is the first phase of three very significant improvements we want to make," he said.

"Hopefully, within the next month or so we will start construction on the meeting room. Also we hope to put the new turf in the indoor facility by next season. It'll be a friendlier field-type surface rather than the astro-turf."

Burton said the facility shows that the athletics department is willing to provide the program with first-class facilities. "It just shows the care and the pride the university has in its football program," he said. "It just shows that no matter what, they'll always support us regardless."

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