November 19, 2015 : By Drew Menard
A new indoor football practice facility will allow the Liberty University Flames Football program to cover more ground in its practice time.
The facility will be built in front of the Williams Football Operations Center at Williams Stadium, in place of the team’s current grass practice field. Work is expected to begin after the end of the football season and is scheduled to be completed by Spring 2017.
“It’s really important for football programs to have that ability to practice year-round,” said Jeff Barber, director of athletics. “In bad-weather situations, it gives us extra practice time; we don’t lose time on the field due to rain, snow, and ice.”
Even when a storm threatens from miles away (NCAA rules call for stopping practice for at least 30 minutes when lightning is within 8 miles), precious time won’t be wasted, Barber said. No longer will coaches have to move practices to much later at night, or to postpone or even cancel them.
Building plans call for a curved roof, with a 70-foot high clearance. The facility will feature a turf playing surface.
The design, created to resemble other structures in Liberty’s $500 million campus rebuilding project, incorporates a lot of glass to allow for natural light, in much the same way as the LaHaye Student Union across the road. The glass will be fully protected inside by netting and other materials.
The facility is being designed to tie in with a future expansion to the east side of Williams Stadium.
With Flames Football coming off a historic season last year — when it made its first trip to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs and recorded its first playoff victory — the program maintains that it is ready for competition at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level.
“Jeff Barber, Head Football Coach Turner Gill, and I have been discussing the need for this facility for more than a year. I believe this facility will take our football program to a new level, and I believe now is the time to take that step,” said President Jerry Falwell.
Barber said the facility is “another way to show Liberty’s commitment to our football program and our desire to move to FBS.”
Gill expressed his gratitude, on behalf of the Flames Football program, to Falwell and Barber on their approval of the project.
“The facility will provide the benefit of allowing our student-athletes to have continuous practice during inclement weather with the least amount of disruptive academic scheduling,” Gill said. “The facility will also enhance the football program’s recruiting efforts by attracting prospective student-athletes from across the country. We give God the glory.”
Football won’t be the only athletics program that will take advantage of the new facility. Liberty student-athletes from multiple sports will have the opportunity to train year-round.
“About a dozen sports teams will be able to work out and use this facility,” Barber said. “Football will be the primary user, but others will be able to use it as well.”
And Flames fans can get in on the action, too, as plans call for a plaza area in front of the building (facing the intersection of University and Evans boulevards) to be used for tailgating and other pregame activities.
“We will also use this facility on game days, for recruiting dinners or luncheons inside, and activities for Homecoming and other special occasions,” Barber said. “This will be a beautiful building in an important spot on campus. With its multiple uses, it will only help our programs get better.”
The new facility will be the latest in a number of campus improvements for Liberty’s NCAA athletics programs. Projects currently under construction include an indoor track & field center, expected to open in Fall 2016, and an Academic and Performance Center, scheduled to open the following summer. A multi-million dollar expansion to Williams Stadium was completed in 2010, and the facility was nationally recognized as one of the top FCS facilities in the country by the Sports Network. Over the last eight years, Liberty has constructed new athletics venues for baseball, softball, field hockey, tennis, golf, and lacrosse, plus given state-of-the-art renovations to the playing and practice facilities for basketball, volleyball, soccer, and track & field.