Texas Tech Athletics Unveils New Sports Performance Center
Kirby Hocutt learned a bit more about his football coach last year.
“When you go through adversity, you learn about an individual’s character and makeup,” said Texas Tech’s athletics director. “We missed ten football practices last year because of weather.
“Not one time did Kliff Kingsbury ever make an excuse because we did not have an indoor facility to move into. It had an impact on our team competing on the biggest stage because they had to do their walk-through in a locker room space that’s way too small. An indoor facility would have had a profound impact and coach Kingsbury never complained.”
Halfway into the 2017 season, walk-throughs are dramatically better in the university’s new state-of-the-art Sports Performance Center, which boasts:
- an 80-yard, indoor football field on the east side with graphics celebrating former Red Raiders now playing in the NFL and the five members of the team’s Ring of Honor;
- an indoor track and field facility on the west side that will host some of the best teams from Power Five conferences during indoor track season this coming winter;
- a dramatically improved weight room to serve all sports, with the exception of football, basketball and volleyball, which have their own dedicated facilities;
- and a nutrition center filled with the foods and body monitoring technology that Division I student-athletes need to train, recover and compete.
But the unique thing about the impressive new building sitting just south of Jones AT&T Stadium is how it was funded — philanthropic gifts from alumni and fans paved the way for the $48 million showpiece.
“When you first step inside the Sports Performance Center, it’s scale alone is dramatic,” said Andrea Tirey, senior associate athletics director of development. “But when you stop and think about the hundreds of donors who made this project possible, the impact of what our alumni and fans achieved is overwhelming.”
Officially opened with an Oct. 20 ribbon cutting, the building is the crown jewel of more than two-dozen facility improvements through The Campaign for Fearless Champions, the university's first fundraising effort focused on student-athletes. Announced in 2014, the initiative set its sights on enhancing athletic facilities, investing in student-athlete scholarship endowments and growing the first-of-its-kind J.T. & Margaret Talkington Leadership Academy.
To date, 22 of 25 facilities projects have been funded, more than $10 million has been added to scholarship endowments, and the goal of establishing a $5 million endowment for the leadership academy was surpassed almost a year ago.
The campaign’s ambition is to lay the groundwork for the next decade of growth across all 17 intercollegiate sports. The hangar-sized Sports Performance Center leaves little doubt about it’s momentum.
Football already benefiting
Junior defensive back Jah’Shawn Johnson and senior wide receiver Cameron Batson have already benefited from the Petersen Family Indoor Football Facility’s massive indoor space early in the 2017 season.
Before, when the team did walk-throughs in a tight space to prep for an opponent — like the locker room story Hocutt shared — players couldn’t get a real feeling of what they would face that weekend.
“You want to be able to go at full speed at all times,” Batson said. “You want to see all the moving parts, actually see where the guy is coming from and who to block.
“A couple of days ago it was raining pretty hard and we were able to get practice in. We’re not sitting around and waiting, so we can get a good jump on our opponents.”
Johnson added, “It makes a huge difference when the weather is bad not to have to go back into the locker room and wait – or when it’s too hot, waiting for it to be a little cooler.”
It also made a difference during the weather delay in the Arizona State game last month, when severe weather made officials clear the field – and stands.
“We came back there and did stretches and reviewed things we needed to know, and it was cool in there,” said Johnson.
Batson said the new facility will also boost recruiting.
“Recruits will see we’re ready to play some big-time football,” he said.
Johnson loves the big graphics featuring Red Raiders in the NFL and Ring of Honor recipients. Next to the photos of legendary players, bold letters announcing “You’re Next,” sum up his feelings.
“You look up every day and see the guys who came before. It’s an awesome experience and you want to be up on that wall,” he said.
Both players want the donors who funded the facility to know how much they’re grateful.
“We appreciate every cent they contributed. We’ll utilize it the right way. It’s already been a big help to us. There are two or three practices we could still hold despite the weather,” said Johnson.
Batson said, “People don’t know how much this means to us and the program in all aspects — for nutrition, strength and a place to go to get good quality work.”
Their head coach also said the massive building will make an impact in attracting future Red Raiders.
“We need our facilities to wow recruits when they visit, and this does. It’s not just the big white bubble you find on other campuses. It’s as first-class as any in the country,” said Kingsbury, adding that facilities like these will keep making an impression on recruits during their long trip home from West Texas.
Donors at all levels step up big
Reflecting on the alumni and fans who supported this project from day one, Hocutt can’t help but mention one name.
“Gary Petersen is a lifelong Red Raider in Houston and part owner of the Houston Texans and Astros. He’s an icon in his industry and believes in the role football plays in the development of a young person and the life of the university.”
He’s also a diehard Texas Tech football fan, and whether attending in person or tuning in, he hasn’t missed watching a game since he was a freshman on campus, a streak of nearly 50 years.
Petersen is thrilled he can help his alma mater — where he earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA in finance — but downplays his role.
“Primarily, I’m a fan. I feel like I’ve contributed and been supportive, but it’s happened through Spike Dykes and Kirby Hocutt and Kliff Kingsbury,” said Petersen, a managing partner and founder of Houston-based EnCap Investments.
“Kliff told me we need to practice in all kinds of weather — sometimes wind and snow — and until the Sports Performance Center was built we couldn’t do that,” he said.
So, Petersen stepped up with a lead gift to the Sports Performance Center, making sure that the indoor football practice facility that bears his family’s name would become reality.
The building also houses the Becky and Kelly Joy Family Sports Medicine Center, made possible by a gift from Houston businessman J. Kelly Joy and his wife, Becky. PlainsCapital Bank also donated to its hometown team for the PlainsCapital Bank Nutrition Center, which will include diagnostic equipment as well as a rehabilitation area to assist student-athlete recovery.
But according to Tirey, funding for the Sports Performance Center didn’t come solely from big donations.
“The remarkable thing about this project is that donors at every level embraced the vision of a facility for all of our student-athletes,” she said. “From online gifts of a hundred dollars to seven-figure donations, each and every contribution made an impact on this project.”
Custom-built for speed
While football is enjoying the east side of the Sports Performance Center, workers have been wrapping up construction on the track. Coach Wes Kittley and his athletes are ready to bring indoor track to the South Plains in a facility drawing national attention long before it’s finished.
“Everyone has an outdoor track, but few have an indoor facility,” said Kittley, who leads teams consistently ranked among the best in the nation as director of men’s and women’s track and field and cross country.
“From the architecture to the fine details, there’s nothing out there that can touch it,” said Kittley. “And the location is second to none. Teams can come to the Overton Hotel & Conference Center and not have to move their bus.”
The Red Raiders and Lady Raiders have competed in indoor track, but traveled to do so.
This season they play host — with the most.
“From the architecture to the fine details, there's nothing out there that can touch it.”
Kittley said indoor track started at northern schools where harsh winter weather posed a threat, but the sport was not as popular in Texas because athletes could practice outdoors almost year-round.
“Now it’s a big deal,” he said.
Texas Tech’s old Athletic Training Center, nicknamed “The Bubble,” didn’t attract top competition.
That’s changed with the university’s banked track from Beynon Sports Surfaces that will dominate the west side of the Sports Performance Center.
LSU, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, Nebraska and Big 12 schools can’t wait to get on the new track.
“We never could attract those people before – now they want to come,” said Kittley, who added the indoor meets will provide an economic boost for Lubbock.
With 1,500 spectator seats, the building is ready to draw a crowd and designed to thrill.
The 200-meter ellipse features an expanded arc in the turns and wider 42-inch lanes. The goal is to make it easier for student-athletes to stay in their lanes, and in turn, post faster times at the finish line.
“Beynon wants to give us a faster track,” said Kittley before noting that Texas A&M’s indoor track only has 36-inch lanes. “Indoors it’s harder to stay in your lanes.”
Senior Steven Champlin, who runs 400 meters and relays is ready to compete in the Sports Performance Center.
“It’s definitely more exciting to compete in our own house, and we have something to pride ourselves in. Plus, the wider turns and shorter straights make the track faster,” he said.
And like his football counterparts, Champlin looks forward to having a great facility to use during nasty weather.
“It’ll be huge in winter. We had to move into indoor soccer, it got crowded and you have to make accommodations on grass, not a track. This will make a huge difference,” he said.
The team’s national status, Big 12 championship title and respected coaches help attract recruits, but the new facility will also help, he said.
“The latest class is the best since I got here,” said Champlin. “The facility gives us an edge in getting top tier athletes.”
Paetyn Revell, a senior long and triple jumper, is ready to show off her skills during the indoor season, aided by a runway as long as those at outdoor facilities and deeper landing pits — not always the norm indoors.
She said at some indoor tracks the Lady Raiders have visited, jumpers have to start on the track. The full-sized jump facilities at the Sports Performance Center will give Texas Tech an edge.
“We consider ourselves ‘Jump University.’ People will test us here, but they can’t beat us at home,” she said.
Both athletes want donors to know how happy they are with their new indoor home.
“I’m super appreciative of their donations. Because of them Texas Tech is going to be the best it’s been, and we want to make them proud and for them to know their donations are worth it,” said Champlin.
Revell hopes donors “understand how appreciative our team is, and we feel loved. We greatly appreciate the thought put into the building. If I could tell them I love them, I’d tell them I love them.”
Dayna McCutchin wants to make sure every student-athlete is fueling their body as effectively as possible. The Becky and Kelly Joy Family Sports Medicine Center, which she compares to a mini-convenience store for athletes, will play a big role.
The Texas Tech University grad who grew up in nearby Idalou is entering her fifth year as director of sports nutrition, a job she got after cold calling Hocutt “multiple times.”
At the time, only Big 12 opponents Texas, Baylor and Kansas had full-time dietitians, she said.
Now Texas Tech is hiring a fourth dietitian.
“We’re where strength training was 20 years ago,” said McCutchin.
The nutrition space in the Sports Performance Center will allow McCutchin and staff to give nutrition support to all sports, fueling their workouts and recovery.
“Proper nutrition can make a good athlete great.”
“It will look completely awesome and be a big recruiting tool,” she said, rattling off a list of features that include a sports-bar theme, giant TV screens and a wrap-around smoothie bar.
The center will have a wide range of food and snacks available for student-athletes, including high-protein Greek yogurt, fresh cut fruit, protein bars, beef jerky and custom-made shakes mixed to match a student-athletes body-composition goals.
A dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scanner will provide state-of-the-art body composition information to help set and track nutrition goals. It will also test bone mineral density, which can aid in monitoring health to help prevent injuries.
Every student-athlete visits with the nutrition and strength and conditioning staffs and gets a customized meal plan based on their training and class schedule and whether they are in season or off-season. They can track what they eat on an app on iPads they’re given.
The nutrition team even delivers to-go boxes to students in class.
But that’s not all.
Student-athletes get cooking demonstrations and are shown how to shop for better nutrition in grocery stores.
“Proper nutrition can make a good athlete great,” said McCutchin.
Red Raider pitcher Davis Martin is excited about the upcoming nutrition changes the new facility will offer.
“I saw Mississippi State’s nutritional center, which is huge – and I’ve been told ours will be bigger. When we have what the SEC has it shows we’re at that level,” he said.
Defensive back Johnson said McCutchin’s program has helped him bulk up.
“I came in at 156 pounds and now am at 186 pounds. Miss Dayna is staying on top of us about gaining weight and staying hydrated,” he said.
Johnson said nutrition paid off when the Red Raiders defeated Houston earlier this season on a hot, humid day in Houston.
At the beginning of the second half, a television commentator said the Cougars might have an advantage later in the game because they’re used to humidity.
“They stressed eating and hydrating (that) week more than in the past,” said Johnson. “I don’t think anyone had a problem – no cramps. They kept us conditioned during the week. We did running and ate a little extra.”
He said some players don’t like eating before an 11 a.m. kickoff, but everyone had breakfast promptly at 7:30.
“Miss Dayna and her staff emphasized you need something,” he said.
The Red Raiders broke Houston’s 16-game home winning streak that steamy day.
For Hocutt and the Texas Tech coaching staff, it’s the result of a years-long vision made possible by philanthropy. Where others may see a new, campus landmark wrapped in tan brick, cut stone and Spanish tile, they see the capstone of strategic investments in training and competition spaces, strength and conditioning facilities, and a cutting-edge nutrition program.
Texas Tech student-athletes are only beginning to see dividends from the investment. But make no mistake, if you’re looking for results from The Campaign for Fearless Champions, ground zero is just beneath the sweeping roofline of the new Sports Performance Center.