On Feb. 21, The Tennessean highlighted Tennessee State's new upgrades for football and the school's top HBCU recruiting class. Below is the article as published by Mike Organ.
Tennessee State football Coach Rod Reed has rerouted the map he follows when a recruit visits, thanks to some new construction and upgrades.
Instead of starting with a trip to LP Field, where TSU has played its home games for the past 13 years, Reed brings prospects straight to campus, where he shows off the team's new locker room, indoor practice facility and renovated weight room.
Reed said that helped the Tigers sign a class two weeks ago that achieved the top ranking for historically black colleges and universities.
"We used to just go to LP Field and show off the locker room and other facilities there when we'd bring a recruit in," Reed said. "When a kid would ask about the locker room or practice field on campus, we would just kind of shy away from it."
The new locker room in Gentry Center was opened late in the summer, and the $3.7 million indoor practice facility and weight room renovations were completed last fall.
"It's really, really nice," said receiver Lavatiae Kelly of Hollywood, Fla., who is considered one of TSU's top signees. "I might not have known what to expect, but I didn't expect anything as nice as what they have."
TSU is one of just six Football Championship Subdivision schools that has an indoor practice facility.
"Any improvement to facilities is going to help a school in recruiting," said Donal Ware, founder and CEO of Boxtorow, a media company that covers HBCU athletics. "When kids see that type of thing, they know that there is a commitment being made by the school to the football program. You add in Tennessee State with its history, all those things play a factor."
The Tigers used the 60,750-square foot indoor facility several times this past season on extremely hot days or when rain kept them from practicing outside.
Reed is particularly proud of the new locker room, which houses 65 wooden, NFL-style lockers and four flat-screen televisions.
"When Coach Reed applied for the head coaching position, one of the main things he talked about was upgrading the facilities," Athletics Director Teresa Phillips said. "He really felt it would help him to improve recruiting. We told him we already planned to build the indoor facility, and he said he would take care of the locker room."
Almost immediately after being named coach in December 2010, Reed started a campaign to raise money from TSU alumni for the locker room.
He ended up with $125,000 in pledges, and the university kicked in $25,000 to complete the project.
"Each kid has an individual lock box with a combination lock for their valuables," Reed said. "We just got in the stools so that they can sit inside or in front of their lockers when they dress. With the flat-screen TVs, we're finding a lot of the guys are using the locker room now as a hangout. They can come in and watch ESPN. We've got DirecTV, so they can pretty much watch whatever they want."
The locker room previously was used as a football meeting room for the offense.
It is located on the side of Gentry Center that faces Hale Stadium. The previous football locker room was located underneath Hale Stadium.
TSU plans to play at least one game at Hale Stadium, which is currently being renovated, this year for the first time since 1998.
In the future, the Tigers hope to play two or three home games at Hale while continuing to play the John Merritt Classic and homecoming at LP Field.
"We'll be able to start a tradition of walking from the new locker room, which sits up higher on a little hill behind the stadium, down to the field now," Reed said.
Other than paint and the addition of new free weights bearing the TSU logo, the improvements in the weight room mostly came down to rearranging the stations.
"We moved our squat platforms away from the wall and cleared out some other things we had in the middle of the room, so that now we have an open space which is wide enough to run short sprints," said strength coach Alvin Futrell. "It's also arranged now where me and my assistant coaches can better keep an eye on the players when they're working out."
The weight room is located in Gentry Center near the new locker room, making it more convenient for the players than when the locker room was at Hale Stadium.
"This is a lot better for the players to have the locker room right across from the weight room," Reed said. "Especially at this time of the year when it's cold. They don't have to leave the building to get dressed."