COLLEGE PARK — Mike Locksley was making his way down a stairwell inside a part of the new Cole Field House still under construction last week when he recalled a stretch of December days in 2001 when the Terps were practicing for their Orange Bowl game against Florida.
It took a question from a reporter to send Locksley on his trip back in time, to when another first-year Maryland coach, Ralph Friedgen, had led the Terps to a surprising Atlantic Coast Conference title. Locksley was in his fifth season coaching the team’s running backs.
“We were practicing on the outdoor turf, it was frozen and we would have to go to the Ravens or the Redskins and use their facilities,” Locksley said.
Asked whether he could ever have foreseen the day when Maryland would have not only its own indoor practice field on the site of the once venerable basketball arena, but would be in the midst of moving toward the top of the arms race in overall college football facilities, Locksley had a simple answer.
While much of the early momentum the Terps had gained with their one-sided blowouts of Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse evaporated with Saturday’s 20-17 defeat to Temple in Philadelphia, their growth as a football program continues unabated amid the noisy jackhammers and other heavy machinery doing their work across the street from Maryland Stadium.
Though much of it is still a mess of mud, electrical wiring and exposed concrete, what Locksley and athletic director Damon Evans can envision has begun to take shape, with the second phase well underway. It will include the team’s offices, locker rooms, weight rooms, meeting rooms, dining areas, two Bermuda-grass practice fields and a 270-foot tunnel leading from the new facility to the field.
Much of it is expected to be finished in time for the start of the 2020 season.
“This entire facility is one of the best in the country, one of the best in the Big Ten,” Evans said during a tour for a handful of local reporters last Thursday afternoon. “Now we’re giving our football program all the tools they need to be successful. I tell people it’s breathtaking. … We want to be a premier program, and to be a premier program, you’ve got to have premier facilities.”
Said Locksley: “It’s going to be in the upper end [of college football facilities] once it’s completed. They haven’t cut any corners with it. We’ll have the ‘Wow’ effect. Just even the indoor [practice facility]. We hosted a [college] coaches’ clinic — Texas, North Carolina and three or four other schools — they were just 'Wow.’ It’s nicer than what we had at Alabama.”
The indoor practice facility opened before the 2016 season, Phase I of a project that was first announced in the summer of 2016 to cost $155 million. Initially, the project was being funded privately, including a $25 million donation from Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and approximately $40 million from the state.
Barry Gossett and his late wife, Mary, pledged another $21.25 million before her death for a learning center dedicated to help the school’s student-athletes. In all, the university has raised a “little under $60 million” in private donations of the $90 million that school officials had hoped for when the plan was first announced, according to a university spokesman.
Shortly before the indoor facility opened, the price tag for the entire project quickly escalated to $196 million, according to a school spokesman, as a result of expanding the initial scope to include a separate three-story building that will be used for sports medicine, specifically for the research into serious brain injuries caused by playing football as well as studying how aging affects the brain.
Brian Ullmann, who recently returned to Maryland as the athletic department’s executive associate athletic director/chief strategy officer, said that the university recently asked the Board of Regents for an additional $14 million “due to increased construction and labor costs” and is seeking “similar increases” across all current projects. If approved, it will be funded by athletics, Ullmann said, which contributed an added $19 million when the project was first expanded.
Ullmann said that $47 million in state funds and $37 million from the university has been approved for the research component of the project. He added that seven different colleges within the university will be conducting research at Maryland, as well as 45 different departments on the College Park campus.
“What we’ve really been lacking is a place to bring all these faculty together and collaborate,” Ullmann said.
Perhaps the most impressive part, even before it is completed, is the sheer expanse of the project that will nearly double the size of the current space — about 50,000 square feet over two levels — in the Gossett Team House, which has served as the football team’s home base since 2008. The entire new facility is 180,000 square feet, about half of which is taken up by the practice field. The future weight room will take up 20,000 square feet alone, more than three times the size of the one inside Gossett.
“From a square footage standpoint, if you take out the indoor field, it’s the same amount for research as it is for this football imprint,” Ullman said. “It’s massive. And massive because the demands for the space are so great for research space with our partners at University of Maryland Baltimore.”
Another piece of the project is an outside patio that, according to Joshua Kaplan, the associate athletic director for Facilities, Operations & Events who oversees the project, is over 3,000 square feet, a large center portion of which is natural grass to help maintain its sustainability. The area overlooks the stadium and a good chunk of the campus. Locksley’s office will oversee the new practice fields.
“It’s a gorgeous campus and we get a great view of it,” Kaplan said. “We can have about a 300- to 500-person function [on the patio], but keep that university natural rich feel to it with actual grass. That’s important for sustainability. You want to have an area where water can be captured, grow a living thing, especially considering it was not a living thing. We’re actually giving back to the environment.”
There is also an attempt to connect with what Locksley and Evans believe will be Maryland’s future success with its past, and with the players who helped build it with their own accomplishments on the field. There will be a small locker room that can be used exclusively by former Maryland players “a handful” at a time — who have gone on to professional careers in the NFL for them to train in the offseason.
“We want to show what the success can be, so we welcome them back and we’re planning for it,” Kaplan said. “It allows us to keep collaborating and keep in touch, and we want to keep cultivating that relationship, and we want to show young men and women at 18, 19 years old that there is a pinnacle in your career that you can get to.”
Evans said the new facilities will certainly send a message to coaches for Maryland’s other teams as well.
“I always tell our coaches that our resources have to meet our expectations,” Evans said as the tour ended. “I don’t want to set expectations here but we’re not providing the necessary resources to meet them.”
Evans also reiterated what he said last December when he hired Locksley, who had spent the previous three years at Alabama, including last season as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“The great thing about Maryland that’s interesting and Locks always talks about it, Maryland’s had success before,” Evans said. “Since I’ve been here [in 2014], I have a deep love for all of our sports, football is one of them, but I’ve always had the desire to help bring this program ... back to its glory days. Now that Locks is here, who understands and gets it, he knows what it takes.
“He’s a great friend of the community. But he’s coming in at a great time, too, with this type of resource and other resources being made available to him, which all of our student-athletes deserve. … I think this takes us to a much different level. I actually believe some people would come here and be surprised by where we are at.”