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Fred Smith Center A Big Hit With Hog Fans

Razorback fans flocked to the Fred W. Smith Football Center to tour the new working home for Arkansas football players and coaches.
FAYETTEVILLE--On a Saturday when their favorite team was idle Razorback football fans came from all over Arkansas and outside the state to tour the recently completed Fred W. Smith Football Center. The 80,000 square foot building is the first of a massive facilities upgrade planned by the school's athletic department.

The tour began on the lower level of the three-story complex. The team's Walker Indoor practice field has been in place for years but it is now connected to the Fred Smith Center to the north and opens onto a pair of high walled outdoor practice fields to the south. Before entering the Fred Smith building many fans stopped to allow their kids to run free on the 120x50 yard turf field. Off to one side a securely caged Tusk IV was available for a kind of mini-petting zoo for those brave enough to stroke his quill-like razorback coat.

"He loves to have his belly scratched," Tusk's handler noted. "It puts him right to sleep."

On this day there were few takers.

On the other side of the field Razorback letterman Paul "Red" Henderson, an offensive lineman on Frank Broyles first three Arkansas teams, chatted with Razorback Foundation Executive Director Sean Rochelle. Noting his wife's absence Henderson explained, "She is on her way to Crystal Bridges."

"Okay, so you came to look at football and she's getting the culture," Rochelle joked.

Along with a crowd of other fans Henderson quickly made his way to a side doorway leading into the Fred Smith Center. 

"Just follow the red arrows on the floor," they were told by an attendant.

At the top of long ramp with windowed views of the indoor and outdoor practice fields they entered the massive team video and meeting room. When Bret Bielema wants to talk strategy with the entire squad, this is where it happens.

"Feel free to look around, have a seat, do whatever your want," a friendly tour guide announced. "You can lean back a little bit and realize that there's a lot of room in these chairs for these big guys."

"If you want to come down in front there's pictures of the old facility," the guide said as her spiel continued. "In every room you go into you'll be able to see where we came from and where we're going and why we needed this new facility."

Touring fans learned that if Bielema decides to have the offense and defense meet separately an automated sound proof wall can be dropped from the ceiling dividing the room in half in around two minutes.

Off to the side some of the more plugged in fans quickly spotted a game-by-game player performance chart tacked to the wall. "Look at that," one man said pointing to freshman Darius Philon's tackles for losses in the Florida game. "One, two, three, four."

Later that same fan stood over a computer screen in the offensive linemen's room looking at cut-down game video from the team's recent preparations for Ole Miss.

Just steps away fans viewed one of the biggest changes from Arkansas' previous facility, a state of the art sports medicine area complete with five separate hydrotherapy pools.

"Amazing," Henderson offered as he gazed around the room. "We had one metal tub, a soaking tub. Of course (Barry) Switzer sat in it most of the time."

The centerpiece of Saturday's tour was a trip into the team's jaw dropping locker room. "I was up here in the 40's," longtime Razorback fan John A. Brenner from Parkin recalled. "Those football players would be amazed if they could see this."

"To imagine a locker room that even has an air ventilation system to take out the sweaty smell so you don't feel like you're in a locker room, that's impressive," Siloam Springs Hog fan Ron Mooney marveled.

Nearby five rows of black metal lockers sat flush along a lengthy wall, each locker accessed via an electronic code.

"What are those, mailboxes?" a fan asked.

"They're equipment bins, one for each player," he was told. Turns out, the bins are loaded from the backside. On the other side of the wall sits the building's equipment room complex. The days of Razorbacks visiting an equipment room window, one at a time, to retrieve gear are over.

Upstairs, in the two story lobby of the Fred Smith Center, fans gathered to collect their thoughts on what they'd just seen.

"It's nice to know where some of our money is going," Ted Ameling said with a smile after making a trip from North Little Rock to view the facility. "It's just a beautiful place. It was well worth the trip."

"Everything is all together now," Ameling's wife Kathy noted. "The players can come in and get everything done in one place. It's an awesome building."

"This has to make a great impression when you bring a recruit in here," Rogers Hog fan Justin Mills stressed. "I think it will have a big impact on getting quality players."

Twelve year old Spencer Haley from nearby Lowell considers himself already recruited telling the Razorback Nation, "The players lounge is really cool. It's like where they hang out. When I get older I'd like to go down there and watch TV or play video games or play pool."

"You want to be a Hog so you can use that facility?" Haley was asked. "Yes sir," he responded with a grin.
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