By ALAN SNEL
UNLV’s football lore does not quite match up to the mystique of its basketball team. But there is one funny football story that has survived the decades and it goes like this: Back in 1983 or 1984, back in the Randall Cunningham era, former UNLV football coach Harvey Hyde used to place an easel on the campus practice field with a sign that said, “future site of UNLV football training center,” to impress recruits.
Well, there was some truth to that Hyde recruiting tactic.
It took some 35 years.
But there will finally be a fancy new UNLV football training complex not too far from the university’s baseball field.
Las Vegas billionaires, football fans and Station Casinos owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta donated $10 million as part of a fundraising effort to raise some $22 million toward the construction of a $28.5 million 73,000-square-foot football training complex.
Tuesday afternoon’s groundbreaking brought out President Len Jessup, Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois, football coach Tony Sanchez and, of course, the Fertitta brothers. They joined some 200 other university officials, athletic department staffers, donors, sports supporter and even current UNLV football players at the 2 p.m. ceremony.
Lorenzo Fertitta, who cashed out of his Ultimate Fighting Championship juggernaut to the tune of $5 billion, donated millions of dollars to Bishop Gorman High School for facilities that helped that school become a national powerhouse.
UNLV football won’t vie with the Alabamas, Oklahomas or Clemsons of the world for college supremacy. But the new two-level Fertitta Football Complex is expected to help attract better football players so that UNLV cannot only be a force in its Mountain West Conference but also get a crack at becoming a Pac-12 member one day.
In an interview with LVSportsBiz.com after the groundbreaking, Lorenzo Fertitta said the UNLV football team suffered from “inferior resources” and that the training complex will help deliver an improved team, which, in turn, will make UNLV into a “better university.”
Fertitta said an improved football team with a bigger profile would help UNLV raise more money and draw more admission applications.
Fertitta also said the return on investment is the students who graduate from UNLV and then contribute to the Las Vegas community.
Other major donors included billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and Las Vegas Sands, with $1 million. And South Point owner Michael Gaughan also donated more than $1 million. The football complex groundbreaking is just the latest in a wave of sports facility construction in the Las Vegas market.
Just last week, Jessup, Reed-Francois and Sanchez were happy to see the Nevada Board of Regents sign off on a deal that will allow UNLV’s football team to play at the $1.8 billion domed Raiders stadium starting in 2020.
A new football stadium in 2020. A new training complex in 2019. UNLV’s football team has hit the facility jackpot after years of playing at Sam Boyd Stadium seven miles from campus and having unferior training facilities.
With his new facility bounty, Sanchez will likely face more pressure to deliver more wins. He has gradually improved the team’s won-loss record, going from 3-9 in 2015 to 4-8 in 2016 to 5-7 in 2017.
Sanchez was fired up during the groundbreaking and acknowledged the football team “hasn’t had the success” he was hoping for and that the football training center is “based on belief” and “provides an opportunity to be good.”
“I’m fired up and rejuvenated,” Sanchez said. “I’m ready to go.”
A member of the UNLV football team, receiver Darren Woods, said the new complex will be a factor when players decide the college they want to attend.
“It’s a huge factor. That flashy sports center catches your eye,” Woods said. “Not a lot of high schools have great facilities. When they see that flashiness, it gets them excited.”
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