The locker-room renovation that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has long sought is about to become a reality.
Plans are in place “so that we’re ready to push go as soon as the season’s over,” athletic director Todd Stansbury told the AJC. “The goal is to have the project completed by the time that preseason practice begins for the 2018 season.
The project is in the design phase, with construction set to begin after the season ends, which Tech hopes would be following its bowl game.
“They’re still on the drawing board, and we’ve got a couple players on the committee, so they’re working on the plans,” Johnson said. “And then of course it has to get approved by campus and all that, but it should be done here in the next little bit.”
The project will cost around $4 million. With Stansbury having made the rounds with donors, commitments have been made to cover the entire tab.
The locker room was constructed in 2003, part of the expansion and renovation of Bobby Dodd Stadium. Player lockers previously were located in the basement of the Edge Center, which is adjacent to the stadium. The 7,000-foot room, which is under the north stands and is used for both practices and games, has received mostly cosmetic updates since then.
Not enough for Johnson. Locker rooms are part of the never-ending competition to dazzle recruits, and Johnson has been banging the drum for a renovation for several years as competitors distance themselves from Tech in that particular race.
Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, N.C. State and Pitt are among schools that have redone their locker rooms within the past four years.
“You guys know it’s an arms race,” Johnson said in August 2016. “And if you’re not building, you’re falling farther and farther and farther behind.”
Tech’s locker room hardly is a dungeon – it’s well-lit and functional. The wooden lockers have compartments for cleats, pads, helmets, clothes and personal items. A wall-size photo of a packed Bobby Dodd Stadium looks over the center of the room, an open space with the “GT” logo on the floor.
But it shows some age and lacks the pop of most of its competitors’ locker rooms. Many locker rooms have backlit logos throughout, branding on the ceiling and homages to the teams’ past successes and stars. Anything to wow a prospect on a visit.
The N.C. State locker room, renovated last year, boasts 82-inch televisions and has LED lighting throughout (the whole room can be lit Wolfpack red) as well as at each locker. The Florida State locker room has tablets at each locker and statues of past Seminoles stars whose jerseys have been retired.
Virginia Tech’s lockers have a ventilation system to keep pads and helmets dry and electrical outlets. At 14,800 square feet, it’s also twice the size of Georgia Tech’s. Georgia State wowed its players in August with its locker room at its new Georgia State Stadium, formerly Turner Field.
“I felt like the nicest place that I saw (during recruitment) was probably VT,” linebacker Victor Alexander said.
Asked for his own wish list, Alexander literally rubbed his hands together.
“Is he going to see this?” he asked hopefully, referring to Johnson. “I don’t know. Maybe some TV’s, some (charging ports) in the lockers.”
He had another unique suggestion – BMW badges in each locker.
“Something fancy,” he said. “Just kind of showing, like, we go to Georgia Tech, this is a technology school.”
By comparison to extravagances elsewhere, Alexander’s ideas sound entirely practical. Texas made a splash this summer – stainless-steel lockers with 43-inch televisions atop each.
“I don’t know about stainless steel,” Johnson said. “Really, it’s whatever the players want, that’s what’s important to me. I’m not a big object (person). It’s whatever helps recruiting, whatever the players need and want.”
It will be the second major project in recent months. With funding provided by the rental agreement Tech arranged with Atlanta United to use Bobby Dodd Stadium, the team re-did the lobby of its football offices at the cost of about $500,000.
A critic of college athletics might argue that the money raised to renovate a locker room might be better used if given directly to the players who would use it. NCAA rules, however, would frown on such an arrangement. For better or worse, LED lighting and charging ports will continue to be the coin of the realm.