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Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility tour By Brett Vito; Photos by jeff Woo, Denton Record-Chronicle

North Texas athletic director Wren Baker stands inside the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility. The school will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to acknowledge the opening of the venue that was completed this fall on Saturday before the Mean Green's game against Middle Tennessee.

UNT opens venue officials see as a game changer

Some of North Texas’ players set out on a dead sprint. Others bounded. A few skipped as the doors rolled up at the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility earlier this fall.

The Mean Green toiled in the heat for weeks on the field adjacent to the venue as construction wrapped up during preseason practice.

This was the team’s first chance to get a feel for UNT’s newest facility, one athletic director Wren Baker and football coach Seth Littrell believe will provide a boost for a program already on the rise.

“We are in a market where there is a lot of talent, but there are a lot of people recruiting that talent, including some of the best programs around the country with some of the best facilities,” Baker said. “Not having an indoor previously was an issue. We have gone from not having one to having one that is as a good as any in the country.”

UNT will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $16 million venue from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday before the Mean Green’s 3 p.m. game against Middle Tennessee.

The event will give UNT fans a chance to get a better look at the facility that includes a full football field, with an additional 10 yards tacked on at one end to give the Mean Green a little extra room to work.

“The new indoor facility is huge for a lot of different reasons, including recruiting, elevating our brand and letting players know that when they come here, we are going to get them what they need to be successful,” Littrell said. “We want to make sure they have a great experience at North Texas and show that we are going to take care of them. Part of that is making sure they have what they need.”

UNT’s indoor facility is air conditioned and has several added features, including a recruiting lounge.

Some of those add-ons will make the venue useful for UNT’s other programs. There are track lanes running down one side of the field with a sand pit at one end the track program will use.

“It’s incredible to be in the new indoor [facility],” UNT defensive lineman Dion Novil said. “We have talked about it for years. To see it happen was great. We won’t miss any days now because of the weather. It will also keep us fresh.”

The Denton Record-Chronicle toured the facility this fall. The following is look at the venue and what UNT officials, coaches and players had to say about the facility and the impact it will make for the school’s athletic department.

North Texas athletic director Wren Baker spoke to the Denton Record-Chronicle about the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility this fall. Baker discusses the venue, the impact he believes it will make for the school’s athletic program and the importance of the donors who contributed to the project in the video above.

UNT made adding an indoor practice facility a priority

Baker and his staff formulated a strategic plan for the future of the school’s athletic program shortly after he arrived in the days leading up to the 2016 football season.

Building an indoor practice facility was among UNT’s top priorities.

Several schools in the region have added indoor practice venues in the last few years. Houston opened a $20 million indoor practice facility in 2017.

School officials believe UNT’s indoor venue will give its athletic programs an advantage over several of their competitors in Conference USA and the region.

“When you walk in it makes a huge, huge impression,” Baker said. “We have a great, great stadium. But student-athletes are very smart. They know that outside of going out and practicing on the field, they use the rest of the stadium very little. They don’t go in the club. They don’t go in the suites. This facility was for our student-athletes.”

The Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility includes a full-length football field, plus an additional 10 yards beyond one end zone. The midfield logo features a UNT eagle over an outline of the state of Texas.

Facility offers respite from the heat of brutal Texas summers

There are a host of reasons UNT made building an indoor venue a priority. None was more important than taking care of its players.

Temperatures soared past 100 degrees during preseason practice in August.

Working out in those conditions day after day can wear down players.

“It’s going to help for sure,” UNT wide receiver Michael Lawrence said. “Working out in there helps keep your body cool and your legs fresh. I can already tell the difference.”

North Texas included several touches throughout the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility that make it unique. The phrase “Selfless, tough, disciplined,” the motto UNT coach Seth Littrell implemented when he took over the football team ahead of the 2016 football season, is prominently displayed inside the venue. “Building champions and preparing leaders,” the motto UNT adopted when Wren Baker took over as athletic director a few months after Littrell’s arrival at UNT was also incorporated in the venue.

UNT added signature details to the venue

Baker has played in integral role in the design and construction of several venues throughout his career in college athletics.

Few of those projects have gone as smoothly as the process of designing and building UNT’s indoor facility.

“This is one of the few facilities that I have worked on where at every checkpoint, we were within budget,” Baker said. “We didn’t have to cut anything out that we wanted to keep. It turned out to be exactly what we envisioned.”

UNT added several unique touches to the interior of the venue, including a photo of program legend “Mean” Joe Greene, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility features a Mean Green sign that lights up at night and is visible from the Interstate 35W.
The Mean Green sign on the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility is just one of the details North Texas added to the exterior of the venue. There is also an eagle logo on the side of the building.

UNT officials made a statement with the design of the facility

UNT made a statement with the way it designed its new indoor venue.

One side of the venue features a giant Mean Green sign that lights up green at night and is visible from the Interstate 35W, one of the main thoroughfares in the region.

The sign is one of the notable touches on the exterior of the venue.

There is also a 15-yard section of artificial turf adjacent to the indoor venue that UNT’s players, and particularly linemen, use for drills.

The Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility features the Jordan Case Recruiting Lounge and the Smith Family Lobby. The lobby was named in honor of longtime boosters C. Dan and Le’Nore Smith. The room includes an image of the McConnell Tower with a button next to it. When that button is pressed, the tower lights up green. UNT students light the McConnell Tower green following wins. The lobby includes a plaque listing boosters who donated to the project.

Thanking those who made construction of the venue possible

UNT included several touches in the facility to honor those who contributed to its construction, including the two major donors.

Jim McNatt and his family gave $3 million toward construction of UNT’s indoor venue in the fall of 2018, just days after Don Lovelace and his family gave $2.5 million toward the project.

“When we started talking about this project and how important it is to recruiting, development and the health and safety of our athletes, both of those guys jumped in,” Baker said. “In a short period of time they gave the two largest gifts the athletic department has ever had. Without their generosity, without their vision, without their passion for our student-athletes, this project wouldn’t have happened.”

The name of the facility is displayed prominently on the outside of the venue and on a plaque in the lobby.

UNT has played in bowl games in each of the last three seasons and is hoping to sit down with talented players there and convince them to be a part of the team’s continued success.

The Mean Green’s current players couldn’t be happier with what they saw after racing into it for the first time.

“I can’t thank the donors enough,” Lawrence said. “I’m glad I got to get in it my senior year.”