High-dollar Fulton Center opens for Aggies

The recently completed Stan Fulton Athletics Center, which overlooks Aggie Memorial Stadium, will house academic support services for NMSU student-atletes, training/rehabilitation facilities, the Aggie football offices and some athletics department offices along with skyboxes and a University Club.

Like a kid with a new bike, Mike O'Larey can't seem to get enough of his new toy.

One might think that with the next 10 months of school, New Mexico State University's head trainer would want to stay away from work on Saturday — his last day off before the coming fall sports schedule for Aggie athletics.

Pulled hamstrings, sprained ankles and shoulder stingers don't take days off. Because of that, O'Larey and his staff won't be taking many off for quite awhile either.

Still, O'Larey found himself in the office Saturday afternoon. "I just need to stop by and pick up some ice for a (staff) barbecue we're having at my house," said O'Larey, who is embarking on his 16th season as the trainer for NMSU athletics.

Saturday office visits don't seem to be as much of a chore for the athletic department these days. Not since the recent completion of the $6 million Fulton Center, located just beyond the south end zone of Aggie Memorial Stadium.

"I love this place," O'Larey said earlier this week. The 33,467-square foot facility will house luxury sky boxes, the department's academic services program — a step up from the double-wide trailer outside the Pan Am Center the program had been housed in — and a new training/sports rehabilitation facility that is second to none in the Sun Belt Conference.

"This is a tremendous step for us in terms of facility," said Brian Faison, NMSU director of athletics. "... It's just another step up for this program and I think it has already had an impact (on recruiting)."

O'Larey seems to think that the space and new facility will enable his staff of trainers, who until now worked primarily in the Pan Am Center, get athletes with injuries back into action sooner.

One such athlete who might have benefited last year from the training facility is projected starter at free safety, Matt Griebel.

Arguably the teams hardest hitter in the secondary, Griebel damaged a knee ligament in 2003 and had neck problems. He was limited to eight games in his sophomore campaign.

On Thursday, a now-healthy Griebel helped the training staff break in a new, state-of-the art aquatic therapy machine called SwimEx. The machine, one of only three in the Sun Belt Conference and the only one thus far in what will make up next year's Western Athletic Conference, is a high-powered water resistance system used for preventative and rehabilitation therapy. It is currently used by 36 professional and, including NMSU, 52 collegiate sports teams.

After about 10 minutes of running against a steady current of water in the new machine, and after all the trainers learned how to monitor an athlete in the system, Griebel was a bit more fatigued than he expected.

"That was a workout," he said. "I came here thinking I'd be doing something easy in this pool, but that was a lot harder than I expected. I can see myself in that a lot this year. ... It probably would have had me ready to go a lot sooner last year, too."

One of the benefits of the SwimEx, according to O'Larey, is its ability to have athletes perform full range of motion exercises with little, if any, impact. The flow of the water can help train, or retrain, athletes about proper balance, which, O'Larey says, can be one of the first things to go after an injury.

With below-surface observation windows, the machine also enables trainers to monitor an athlete's range of motion during exercise and better evaluate ways to approach rehabilitating injuries.

While Faison said the new facility has already begun to improve recruiting of athletes, O'Larey thinks it will also help the university's Athletic Training Education Program, which is comprised of students studying in the School of Education for degrees in athletic training. Those students — seven this semester — are assigned to O'Larey to assist in training and rehabilitation of student athletes.

"This is really just a step up all around for us," O'Larey said. "We'll see the benefits in so many areas."

One of the most important benefits the university might see according to Faison is in fund raising. The third-floor Danny Villenueva Victory Club will be available to rent out by the public for business luncheons, awards banquets, etc. And, pending an upcoming decision by local lawmakers on whether to grant the building a liquor license, the third-floor Victory Club could become a prime location to wine and dine school boosters.

"It will start creating revenue for us and the university and start not only paying for itself, but begin funding some of our other programs (besides football)," Faison said.

Construction of the Fulton Center was made possible in large part through a $3 million donation from Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Along with that was a $250,000 donation from Villenueva, a former Aggie and NFL kicker who has also gained national notoriety for his involvement in Telemundo and Univision television.

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