Training Day: Cal unveils the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center

Danielle Lee/Staff

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Even those tree-sitters have to be pretty impressed.

In just four short years, the Cal football team went from using some of the worst facilities in all of college football to arguably some of the best.

Throughout his first 10 years as head coach, Jeff Tedford often expressed the difficulty of trying to get recruits excited about his program while taking them on tours of locker rooms and training facilities that wouldn’t even pass for halfway decent high school gym.

“When I got recruited, I wasn’t too impressed,” sophomore safety Avery Sebastian says. “The main thing that was drawing me to the school was the academics.”

Recruits like Sebastian were originally turned off by the cramped and dark weight rooms, a stadium that appeared poised to sink directly into the Hayward Fault and locker rooms that bore closer resemblance to medieval torture chambers.

But in early in December 2008, Tedford’s prayers were answered. After backlash from the city was resolved and  tree-sitters vacated their posts after a 21-month protest, a notice to proceed with the construction of a new High Performance center was cleared.

And now, just three years after construction began, Tedford and his team are finally reaping the benefits of the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center. Whereas before the team had to train in shifts due to space constraints, Cal has now found plenty of room in a facility designed to house 450 student-athletes.

“They can motivate and push each other, and they don’t need to lift in three groups,” Tedford says. “That’s really the benefit of it.”

Efficiency was the main game plan in devising the center’s construction. The 142,000 square-foot center is designed to be an all-encompassing facility — containing anything and everything that a student-athlete would ever want or need.

In addition to a weight training complex and locker rooms, the facility houses a sports medicine department — including four pools for aquatic therapy, sports physiology and biomechanics laboratories. There are also separate team meeting rooms. The center features academic service rooms, nutrition and food services and a full-blown medical clinic with X-ray and ultrasound imaging equipment.

“There are unlimited things we can do,” Sebastian says. “Everyday, there’s something new to find in there. Everything is in there, and it’s so convenient. One minute you can be getting taped up, and five minutes later you’re back out on the field.”

While Cal fans are just getting their first glimpse, the center actually opened last September, and various teams began to move into their new facilities last October.

The football team, however, remained stationed at their temporary facilities at Witter Field in order to avoid a midseason move-in.

While the Bears are currently getting their first taste of the center after jealously watching other teams last year, 12 other varsity sports have already gotten acquainted with the new toys.

“There’s a bit of one-stop shopping there,” rugby coach Jack Clark says. “Having the training facility, sports medicine, locker rooms, academic advising and dining all in one area is really efficient, and I think we’ve benefitted from that efficiency.”

Despite the football players’ short time in the new facilities, the team is already starting to feel an impact. The squad has put an emphasis in conditioning this year, looking to outplay opponents in the fourth quarter. That’s something that hasn’t happened on a frequent basis for a team known for its late game collapses — such as a 10-9 loss to Arizona in 2010.

“We can already feel it,” Sebastian says. “(After wind sprints) nobody is tired and everyone’s head is up.”

While the vast majority of the center is complete, some things still require tidying up. The weight room is still being fitted with plasma monitors to allow athletes to check their own form as they train. The physiology and biomechanics labs are also still not quite up and running — but are projected to be functional in the very near future.

“It’s unbelievable,” senior running back Isi Sofele says. “We didn’t used to have all this technology. It’s just a real blessing to have upgraded.”

The only other facilities in the Pac-12 that even come close are Oregon’s. But while the Ducks’ $3.2 million locker room that spans two floors is shiny and impressive, their overall facilities don’t have anything near the inclusiveness and the efficiency boasted by the High Performance Center.

“I definitely think it’s up there as one of the best,” freshman guard Jordan Rigsbee says. “It’s really awesome, and I really appreciate everything I have.”

Another impact expected to come from the center is its impact on recruiting. Many of Cal’s 2012 recruits cited it as one of the main reasons for their interest in Cal — and that was just from seeing what the work-in-progress center looked like, as well as viewing renderings of what the finished product would be. Now the Cal coaching staff will get to show off facilities that could rival those of most NFL teams.

Sebastian already felt the impact it could have on recruiting last winter. After Tosh Lupoi left Cal in the midst of its most successful recruiting season in school history, Sebastian took it upon himself to keep the class together — and used the center as one of his main selling points.

“Recruits still just come for coaches and academics, but this just adds to that,” Sebastian says. “This just puts Cal over the top.”

While it’s not unexpected to see a surge in recruiting with top-notch facilities, rugby coach Jack Clark isn’t convinced that all the narrative about the center’s impact on recruiting — whether coming from coaches or fans and bloggers — should be a focal point.

“It dumbs down the center and turns it into some shiny fishing lure,” Clark says. “Just helping our existing athletes in getting from where they are to where they want to be is what I see as the main benefit, not because plasma televisions are going to help us recruit more and better players.”

Regardless, the impact that the center has had — and will continue to have — can’t be underestimated. Given its affiliation with the university, it has often been assumed that the team should be more cerebral in its training and preparation than other programs. Its athletes often cite Berkeley’s academics as their main reason for choosing the blue and gold, so it’s often assumed that the team should have every possible mental advantage over its opponents.

And now it has a facility to support that notion.

“Everyone hypes up a lot of other programs,” Sebastian says, “But ours is number one because it’s the most efficient. It complements the type of school we have. When everything is done, it’s going to be even better than we thought it was.”