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Commentary: Football practice complex is a “transformational” moment

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It’s not the same old Rutgers

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You always hear sports announcers, in an effort to build excitement and tension, talk about the “turning point” of the game. You’ve heard them all: the critical fourth down play inside the opponent’s five, late in the game. The crucial strikeout with the tying run on third. It’s a moment in a game when a team does something special, or extraordinary, or simply a key that turns the tide its way.

That turning point was spotlighted yesterday when the Marco Battaglia Football Practice Complex was dedicated.

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It is an important step in moving forward in terms of better facilities to attract better athletes. And in terms of having better facilities for your current athletes.

But more than that, it is a critical step forward in showing that private gifts - in this case from Amy and Jeff Towers - can be found to assist and build Rutgers Athletics. The Towers have no direct connection to Rutgers; Amy is a Wisconsin grad and Jeff attended Nebraska. Yet they are now in the Rutgers family and are not shy in showing their support. And that support is accepted and received with gratitude by the Rutgers folks, along with an acknowledgement of just how significant it is.

“It’s like every new piece of facility that we get,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. “They’re all game–changers. This is huge on a lot of fronts. First and foremost, it shows commitment by the university to approve a project like this.”

Commitment. By the university. For a long time, many if not most Rutgers fans weren’t really sure that was the case, or if the University even knew what that meant. It all changed in November of 2015 when President Robert Barchi dismissed Athletic Director Julie Hermann and Head Coach Kyle Flood. It was a purging of a regime that either couldn’t or wouldn’t get the job done. It was also a statement that some things - like hiring the right people and having a vision - can’t be done in a half-baked manner or without careful consideration.

Enter Pat Hobbs. The hiring of Hobbs as the AD changed that. For Hobbs, the mantra was “do it right”. Spend the money to do it right or don’t do it at all. Plan what you want done and then go about the process of getting it done. The right way.

During the dedication, Hobbs, Ash, and Jeff Towers all pointed out how detailed the process was, how hard people worked. Whether the design team, the contractors, the operations people, they all left it all on the field, literally. No effort was spared, no challenge was denied. They did it right.

In fact, everything was done right. The program for the dedication was simple, but elegant. On time, well directed, crisp. The speakers - Hobbs, Ash, Towers, and Battaglia - were terrific in their messages. Fan and donor Jon Newman tweeted he was ready to run through a wall for Jeff Towers; that’s how impactful his message was. The video they showed on Battaglia’s Rutgers career was great; you forgot just how good he was. This was a wonderful program. For a wonderful event.

Flags of the Big Ten schools along with an “81” flag. Jeff Towers told the “Gentlemen members of the Rutgers University football team” that they represented the best conference in the nation every time they step on the field....and off it.
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In an interview with nj.com’s Keith Sargent, Hobbs pointed out how important this project was to changing perceptions of Rutgers, telling everyone that Rutgers can get things done. “It’s starting to disappear [the doubt]. It’s slow. It’s like the [phrase], ‘Rutgers is a sleeping giant.’ We’d love to get to the point of not hearing that any more. I think facilities like this will help remove the doubt that’s existed with the Rutgers faithful about, ‘Can you get things done?’ So we did two great strength and conditioning rooms {Hale Center and the RAC].

"People say, ‘Okay, that’s good, but they’re strength and conditioning areas.’ Now you come and look at these practice field areas and say, ‘Whoa, that’s a big step up’ in what they did there. And in the fall everybody is going to start to see the RWJBarnabas Athletic Performance Center coming out of the ground and, I think, that should forever kill the (question of) ‘Can we ever get it done?’ We’re getting it done.''

Scoreboard on inside of video board, honoring Battaglia’s “81” and the upcoming 2017 season
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There’s still a lot to do. Physically in terms of facilities and monetarily in terms of fundraising. But yesterday, Rutgers had something to smile about, to show off, to be proud of. It was a day when Rutgers could say, ‘Look at us. Look what we did’. And people like Jeff and Amy Towers can be pointed to and others can be told, ‘Their gift did this. Imagine what your gift can accomplish’. Because this isn’t the same old Rutgers. As Pat Hobbs told Sargent: "In five months, you (the fans) built this facility and I think if you were to go back and show people what we were going to build and say we were going to do it in five months, a lot of people would’ve said, ‘Not possible.’ That’s our message, it’s that everything is now possible at Rutgers University.''

Everything is now possible at Rutgers University. Did some of you ever think you’d hear that? Yeah, a transformational moment.