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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
The University of Miami football team is used to practicing in the heat, the humidity and the haze of August in the Miami suburbs. Won't the shade and the air conditioning make the players soft?
"No," offensive tackle Kc McDermott said. "It'll make us better, because we won't keep missing practices."
Thursday was a ceremonial step forward for UM football, but a significant one: The program broke ground on its long-awaited indoor practice facility.
By August 2018, players will be able to perform in cool conditions, in a $34 million structure.
McDermott, who starred at Palm Beach Central and is entering his senior year, and UM players past and present have long dealt with rain-delayed (and at times cancel ed) practices. UM estimates 22 per year are affected by the weather in Miami, one of the stormiest, wettest climates in the U.S.
The building is named for the mother of real estate developer Jeffrey Soffer, who along with his family donated $14 million to the project last fall.
Several football alums gave money, including coach Mark Richt, who pledged $1 million, and NFL linebacker Jon Beason ($250,000). Several current players attended Thursday's event, including McDermott, linebacker Shaq Quarterman, and defensive ends Chad Thomas and Trent Harris.
Other familiar faces: Canes football great and former Suncoast star Devin Hester, women's basketball alum Tamara James, baseball coach Jim Morris and women's basketball coach Katie Meier.
Richt, who spent most of his 15-year tenure at Georgia trying to get an indoor facility — and was fired before he could enjoy the one UGA built — admitted in his remarks to a crowd of 300 he "teared up" when an introduction video was played before the ceremony.
"We're here," he began, beaming. "It's nice."
In explaining why the project is necessary, he minicked the sound of a loud, abrasive lightning detector alarm. That's the sound that alerts players to dangerous weather in the area, and it is quite sensitive. Players must immediately exit the field. They change from cleats to tennis shoes, and practice continues in UM's smaller, more constricted wellness center.
That's not ideal when, say, Florida State arrives in three days.
"Every day of my career as a head coach, I've always thought of Plan B," Richt said, expressing relief that after this year, the rest of his career at his alma mater will be lightning-free.
Along with Richt, the mayor of Coral Gables, Raul Valdez-Fauli, UM President Julio Frank, UM trustees chair Richard Fain, past chair Stuart Miller and Carol Soffer spoke in an air conditioned tent on UM's turf field, with a ceiling decorated with orange and green flags.
"This facility will be a game-changer for our football program," Athletics Director Blake James said. "(It) will be among the very best in the nation."
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