FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is still in the process of unpacking boxes in the Fred W. Smith Football Center after moving in – officially – earlier this week.
That hasn’t stopped the new facility from making a significant mark.
Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge described last Friday’s unveiling as a "symbolic" moment for players who have endured plenty of difficulties because of the scandal that led to former coach Bobby Petrino’s firing in April 2012.
"I was taken aback a little bit by how emotional they were," Partridge said. "You kind of forget what these kids have been through for the last 18 months. And when they walked in there, it was almost like the final piece of, ‘Okay, we’ve moved forward. We’ve stepped into another timeframe.’ There was some relief. There were some kids that got choked up. … The facilities are off the charts, but there was another kind of symbolic, we’re finally moving on feeling in that room."
Some of the scene was captured in photos and videos, which were posted by players on their Twitter pages. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema believes the reaction had an impact in other ways, too, leading to one of the Razorbacks’ best recruiting weeks.
Arkansas secured five verbal commitments from prospects last Saturday.
"I’ve never had a recruiting weekend like that," Bielema said. "Especially because there were a few officials, but a lot of unofficial visits. But we had some huge momentum and I think a lot of it was out of what they saw Friday night from our own players because that’s real, that’s genuine. It’s sincere."
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long couldn’t attend the unveiling last week, but was "excited" about the impact it has had on coaches and players in the first week.
Long also stressed that the facility was built "for a program, not a coach" and that the focus was on the "things that mean the most to the players." The facility includes a new locker room, improved training and rehabilitation areas and meeting rooms.
"They have been through a lot, and I think we trivialize that sometimes," Long said. "That was an impactful thing, obviously, and now this is kind of like a rebirth. We’ve got a coach who is going to be here. He’s their coach for the future. I think the new facility is something they just really rally behind. I think it was emotional for them."
Arkansas will report for preseason camp on Aug. 4 and hold its first practice on Aug. 5. Bielema said the first week of practice will be closed much like the spring.
The Razorbacks are planning three Saturday scrimmages during preseason camp that should start at 3 p.m., 6 p.m, and 11:21 a.m, respectively. Bielema said the goal is to scrimmage the same time as the program’s first three games of the season.
"We’ll have our first scrimmage at the exact same game time as when we open up with Louisiana-Lafayette (at 3 p.m.)," Bielema said. "The next Saturday we’ll do a game time that we open up with Samford in Little Rock. Then the third week we do the game time. Because we know the first three games it will be a steady crescendo that way through. I think just to find out where our players are at."
Waiting On Two
Bielema said there are two members of the 2013 signing class who aren’t on campus this summer: wide receiver Melvinson Hartfield and punter Sam Irwin-Hill.
It’s not clear when Hartfield will arrive, but Bielema said Irwin-Hill should be in Fayetteville at the end of the month. The rest have been attending summer school and Bielema said he and the staff are eager to begin working with the newcomers.
"There’s obviously some positions that need to have some of these incoming freshmen maybe be a part of it," Bielema said. "Everybody’s been asking me a number on freshmen that’ll play. We’ll play as many as we think can help us win."
Office? What Office?
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has an office in the Razorbacks’ new facility. But Chaney isn’t exactly planning to see much of it.
"I live in the offensive staff room," Chaney said. "My office looks nice, but I don’t go in it. The staff room looks fine and it’s good. I don’t have my dimmer switch right, but once they get that done … Just leave me alone and throw me some food once in awhile, a cold beer in the evenings, and I’ll be just fine."
Kickoff Luncheon Set
Arkansas will hold its football kickoff luncheon on Aug. 23.
The luncheon will be held at the NWA Convention Center in Springdale and features Bielema, Long and the rest of the football team. Doors open at 11:15 a.m. and general admission tickets are $25. A reserved table for eight, with two seats for Arkansas football players or football personnel, is $300.