ATHENS — Another Georgia practice, another weather delay.
It hasn’t been awful this year, but weather and those infamous Georgia late-summer thunderstorms have been something the Bulldogs have had to negotiate regularly. That has always been the case since UGA hasn’t had indoor practice facility, but it’s especially problematic now that they’re having to bus three miles away to the Club Sports Complex on South Milledge Avenue.
But inclement weather is just one of the factors that Kirby Smart alludes to when discussing the need to get into an indoor practice area. The heat the team is having to endure daily is another.
“If we had an indoor practice facility, we’d probably go in it once every three days,” Smart said after Tuesday’s weather-delayed practice. “What I’ve found over time at other places I’ve been is your legs recover when you go inside, and we have no recovery right now. We can’t hide from the heat. We have nowhere to go. You either shorten a practice or cut a practice off. There’s no good way around it. So it’s not as much the weather as much as it is the heat.”
The good news is Smart is not going to have to wait too long. Georgia’s new Indoor Athletic Facility, as the Bulldogs like to call it, is coming out of the ground fast. It won’t be finished during this season but, according to UGA officials, construction on the $31 million building should be completed before the end of the year.
“I’m hoping to get an early Christmas present,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said recently. “Everything is on schedule so far.”
It couldn’t get here quick enough for the Bulldogs, who went through what has become a somewhat typical routine on Tuesday. They had been practicing for about a half-hour or so when a lightning strike hit not far from the three refurbished fields they have taken over from UGA students at the Club Sports Complex.
Immediately the practice was blown dead by a team manager and the players were herded onto four UGA buses, which had to be hustled into place from a nearby parking lot. After sitting on the buses for slightly less than a half-hour — the prescribed minimum for a weather delay where radar shows no other activity — the players piled off the buses and were hustled right back into place, where they picked up where they left off.
Funny thing, former Georgia head coach Vince Dooley was on hand for Tuesday’s practice. He was laughing about how they used to practice right through pretty much whatever weather came through, thunderstorms included.
Of course, Georgia is the last SEC school to build an indoor practice facility. But when they did, the UGA alumni and fan base stepped up to answer the Bulldogs’ call big way. In a fundraising effort that started under former coach Mark Richt and gained momentum after Smart’s appointment, UGA has recouped more than 80 percent of the construction cost of the building through donations and pledges. They were asking for half.
There have been rumblings of Georgia having secured the naming rights for the building from one donor — which is thought to require a donation of a third of the total cost — but McGarity denied that was the case. Stay tuned, though.
In any case, a glance at the construction site on Tuesday reveals that the external steel infrastructure is nearly complete. The giant building eventually will include more than 109,000 square feet of practice space. It’s evident now that it will pretty much completely block the view of Stegeman Coliseum from Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
But it will provide lots of room for the football team, as well as baseball and track, which will also have access.
“You like it to get your guys legs back where they can play at the normal speeds and you’ll have your normal distances,” Smart said. “Inside you can do that, but we don’t have that luxury right now.”
Soon, though. Very soon.