BLOOMINGTON — For defensive end Jammie Kirlew, quarterback Ben Chappell and the rest of the Indiana Hoosiers, Christmas comes Thursday.
That's when the veterans report to camp and they get to see Memorial Stadium's finished North End Zone facility that boosts the program into the 21st century and gives the Hoosiers, at least for a little while, something close to parity in the facilities arms race.
“I can't wait,” Kirlew said. “The coaches told us everything would be moved in and we said, ‘Yes!'
“Being an older guy and having seen them cut the ropes (to start construction) and do the digging and all the construction, it's amazing.”
Amazement came even last February, when Chappell took recruit Dusty Kiel, now an IU freshman quarterback, on a tour of the then-unfinished building.
“Basically it was just the bones of it,” Chappell said, “but when he walked through it was like ‘Wow!' A lot of guys feel that way.”
That feeling is among the reasons the Hoosiers believe they're ready to bounce back from last year's 3-9 disaster despite preseason publications picking them to finish last in the Big Ten.
“All the resources that we'll have will help lift Indiana football off the ground,” Kirlew said.
The $40 million-plus renovations have produced a 138,000-square-foot building with 25,000 square feet devoted to the weight room.
“It's the biggest of its kind in the country,” athletic director Fred Glass said. “To go from the old weight room of less than 5,000 square feet to this catapults us to a difference maker.”
“The weight room is giant,” Chappell said. “Coach (Bill) Lynch said it will be like lifting at Menards. It's first-class.”
The meeting rooms, locker rooms and academic center will provide a “Football layout that is among the best in the country,” Glass added.
There's also a Hall of Champions that can host banquets of up to 500 people, plus 425 box seats that are sold to corporations and that “are sold out for all six home games,” Glass said.
“This facility is the most tangible example of the university's commitment to football.”
The new facility is among the reasons IU is wracking up oral commitments at a school-record pace. The Hoosiers landed their 20th commitment when Louisville defensive back Drew Hardin announced Monday. He's also a Kentucky state place winner in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles. They got their 21st commitment when Indianapolis Cathedral athlete Kofi Hughes committed Tuesday.
IU has picked up five commitments in recent days. The others are Georgia defensive back Brian Williams and two Cincinnati Elder players - receiver Tim O'Conner and defensive end Pete Bachman.
The class features four defensive backs. There also are four defensive ends, three running backs, three linebackers, three offensive linemen, two wide receivers, one athlete and one tight end.
Five of the recruits - O'Conner, Detroit linebacker Ishmael Thomas, Muncie wide receiver Logan Young, Cincinnati defensive end Jibreel Black and Illinois offensive lineman Marlandez Harris - are rated as three stars (out of five) by Rivals. com, a national recruiting service. Seven others are rated with two stars.
IU officials can't comment on recruits until they sign national letters of intent (signing day is in February), but it's believed this is the most early commitments ever for the Hoosiers. The class is shaping up as one of the best in memory.
“The team is going the right way,” Glass said. “We're getting the stability benefits of coach Lynch having been here. We're getting a cut-above recruits than we had been getting. We want to get coach Lynch all the tools.”
Lynch is excited also.
“The best is yet to come,” Lynch said. “We like the recruiting philosophy we've developed the last couple of years. We're trying to develop a consistency in everything we do, including once we get recruits here.
“The building has helped a lot, and it will help even more from this point on now that it's finished. Once kids see all the bells and whistles and new technology, they'll be even more impressed. We'll recruit better.”