EVANSTON, Ill. — If you’re fortunate enough to get a tour of the incredible new athletic facilities on the campus of Northwestern University, as I was Friday, you get to see things that select programs feature — and some things you won’t see anywhere else. At least not in a football facility.
Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel toured the almost-completed athletics mecca last May, and he doubled back last a few weeks ago a year after its completion to write about the stunning effect the new facility has had on the program’s recruiting.
It’s easy to see why.
There are the coaches’ meeting rooms that are nearly double the size of the old facility’s rooms, and there are twice as many. No more sharing workspaces or bumping elbows among the assistants.
Indoor and outdoor practice fields, each with robotic videotaping devices that can scan any corner near or far, controlled from an office by joystick.
A virtual reality room where quarterbacks can take mental reps — 2019 Philadelphia Eagles fifth-round QB Clayton Thorson was in there all the time while rehabbing his ACL last year. (It’s so big, it doubles as the lacrosse locker room for home games.)
There’s the athletic training area, also bigger and more cutting-edge, and expansive enough for every sport’s athletes to rehab at the same time.
The “man cave” for players to hang. Massive hot tub and cold tub. The works.
It cost $270 million to build. In a word, it’s tremendous. All with a sprawling view of gorgeous Lake Michigan, which is an especially nice place to be this time of year.
That’s all great and amazing and whatnot ...
But the Walter Athletics Center also features a special showpiece near head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s office, one that might be unique ... to any college football program that we’re aware of.
‘We can’t sell this!’
It’s a stuffed wildcat. Like, a real one. And it was hunted and hand delivered by the father of former Northwestern QB (and current New York Jets backup) Trevor Siemian who bagged it on a hunting trip up in Wyoming.
Walter Siemian took down the predator — legally, of course — last November, sent the cat of prey in question to a taxidermist and then donated it to the program.
The initial understanding was that it would be sold, with the proceeds benefitting the program. After all, these things draw some serious coin. (One current listing here for a mountain lion, which this mammal appears to be, is going for more than $12,000.) But once Fitzgerald saw it, the story goes, there was no way he was letting it leave.
The cat was staying put. That’s also easy to see why. And it’s now the first thing you see when you enter the coaches’ meeting rooms.
Let us not take away from the splendor that is this new Northwestern facility. There are plenty of relics from the old days — such as former Wildcats head coach Randy Walker’s final whiteboard message to his team prior to his death in 2006 — as well as all the new bells and whistles.
And this is amazing: Coach Randy Walker’s last whiteboard. It remained untouched — but exposed — for 12 years. Some custodian theoretically could have erased on accident.
Now it’s protected by glass. pic.twitter.com/n1RBgydB4Y
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) June 14, 2019
But it’s hard not to remember the stuffed cat. The one donated by the dad of the QB who is making the program proud in the NFL. And short of Siemian taking over for an injured Sam Darnold and leading the Jets to the Super Bowl, we think his father’s big catch could be just as big a recruiting tool as all the incredible structure that surrounds it.
Of course, not everyone can see it. The new facility’s security system is top-notch, and most non-football players even don’t get that far into the bowels of the football operations portion of the building. But if you’re one of the lucky few, perhaps one of those new recruits the Wildcats are hosting lately, you’ll see what we are talking about.
Our pitch, if you ever get a chance to visit the facility: Come for the incredible structure, but stay for — and beg your way up to see — the cat.
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