Football players love new digs at the Woody

Bill Rabinowitz

For Ohio State football players, their practice home has become a palace.

In June, a 42,000-square-foot players lounge opened as part of a major renovation on the east side of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

“It's dope, man,” senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper said.

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The $6.3 million lounge, paid for by donors, has almost everything you can think of — and some things you wouldn’t.

Basketball court? Check. Arcade games? Check. A barbershop? Check.

The players lounge is about more than fun, though. A portion of it is for cutting-edge health and recovery devices. That includes sleep pods, float tanks, a laser sauna and a cryogenic chamber.

Upstairs in the Wandell Family Players suite, the Buckeye Grille provides food for players. The overall lounge doesn't have a formal, although "Club Woody" would be appropriate.

“The new addition is huge for us,” coach Ryan Day said. “It's really catapulting us in recruiting, which is really important. We say we give and create an environment which is one of the best in the country in terms of taking care of a student-athlete on the field, off the field, emotionally and socially.

“They can spend all day, play arcades, shoot baskets, play on the golf simulator, recover on the cryo. We want them to feel like this is their home.”

Ohio State is hardly alone in creating a state-of-the-art facility. Oregon was the pioneer several years ago when it used Nike money for a facility that included rare Italian marble and hand-woven rugs made in Nepal. Clemson’s recent renovation is highlighted by a slide from the second floor to the ground floor of their facility. LSU just finished a $28 million renovation that includes sleep pods in the locker room.

“Ohio State is already a premier school, so I don't think you need to match (everyone),” said associate athletic director/general manager of football operations Brian Voltolini, the point person for the project. “But recruiting is recruiting, too. So when these guys go to other schools and see a slide at Clemson or a bowling alley … yes, there's a motivation there to make the bells and whistles for recruiting. But you also want to do it right for the players who are here.

“It wasn't really driven by other schools. It's really driven by the players here. I get feedback from them.”

Ohio State worked with the Cincinnati-based MSA architectural firm to design the players center. Of the 42,000 square feet, 30,000 is renovated space. A seldom-used racquetball court, full-size basketball court and some storage areas were removed.

Several years ago, the NCAA dramatically liberalized rules allowing programs to feed their athletes. Ohio State had been using a makeshift area to prepare and serve food on the east side of the athletic center.

“We didn’t really have a dining area,” Voltolini said. “It was awful. We fit like 60 people in there.”

The Buckeye Grille has plenty of space and will have plenty of dining options. Ohio State has a contract with Levy for its food service, but will supplement that with outside vendors to provide variety.

“We don't do anything crazy,” Voltolini said. “It's not like what you saw with Alabama when they opened their, like, nutrition center and it’s, like, chefs all over the place.”

Voltolini said gourmet items like lobster will generally be served only for special occasions such as victory dinners.

Voltolini and Buckeyes players were particularly enthused about the high-tech medical additions. Voltolini and head strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti saw a cryogenic chamber during a visit to the Minnesota Vikings a couple of years ago.

“He’s like, ‘That’s what we want,’” Voltolini said

Ohio State head athletic trainer Doug Calland said there haven’t been conclusive studies about the effectiveness of cryotherapy, in which liquid nitrogen is used to lower temperatures to minus-166 degrees. The idea is that brief exposure to such extreme cold aids in recovery and reducing inflammation.

“You'll feel sore after practice and you hop in that thing,” guard Wyatt Davis said. “It's like a time machine. You come out feeling brand new and fresh.”

The float tank is filled with salt water and heightens the benefits of sleep.

“The theory there is that if you stay in the float tank for an hour, it's equal to four hours of sleep,” Voltolini said.

In a time when many students face financial pressure just to attend college, having such a sanctuary for football players might cause some resentment. Voltolini said the players need and deserve such a place because of the demands put on them in such a high-profile and dangerous sport.

“This is their job,” Voltolini said. “They're here all the time. They put their body, their mind, their soul all into this. They need to get recovered. We need to make sure that they're protected. We can't just use the athlete. We have to care about them. We care about everybody, but they play a violent sport.”

The Buckeyes already believe the new players center is benefiting them.

Center Josh Myers said he spends “an absurd amount of time” using the golf simulator, and he has formed friendships with teammates as a result.

“We all spend more time here now,” Myers said. “Linebackers will come in while I’m hitting golf shots. Normally, I wouldn’t necessarily hang out with some of those guys, but here I am at the Woody and we start hitting golf shots together and just talking. I love it.

“I think that's part of the other reason, like coach Day said, that this team is so close. Stuff like that brings this team together. Constantly, there are guys here when normally no one would be here.”


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