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'A Big, Big Milestone': Gators Cap Off Facility Move-In at Stadium House

26 Florida Gators moved into the new Stadium House apartment complex in Midtown Gainesville on Sunday, on the program's dime.

Photo: Stadium House Apartments signage; Credit: Zach Goodall

The James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center wasn't the only complex the Florida Gators moved into on Sunday.

Following the team's 4 p.m. arrival at its state-of-the-art, $85 million facility and a lengthy tour around the building, a group of 26 players, some of their parents, Gators director of football operations Joshua Thompson and senior director of student-athlete development/alumni relations Vernell Brown Jr. made their way to Midtown Gainesville for their second move-in of the day.

"This is a great day," Thompson told AllGators after one of his many treks in a U-Haul on Sunday. "I woke up this morning knowing this would be a great day because we're gonna have a lot of our guys smiling from ear to ear and being excited."

The excitement was evident if you tuned into the player's Instagram Live feeds while they toured the Heavener Center, wowed by the new locker, weight, training and recovery rooms, leisurely areas, coach offices, you name it. 

Their joy was equally as noticeable at the new Stadium House apartments. A range of freshmen, former transfers and even a couple of veteran players moved into the building that occupies the lot where the famous Swamp Restaurant once stood. It officially kicked off the partnership that UF reached with the living complex as a part of its Student Housing Initiative. 

"That's a big, big milestone," said third-year Gators defensive end Princely Umanmielen, recalling his time spent in a cinder-block-walled dorm building after arriving on campus in 2020.

"The old [coaching] staff, they didn't even show us where we used to live. And then when we got here, we were caught off guard with the dorms, how small they are and things like that," Umanmielen continued. "So, just that the incoming freshmen are going to be able to have a cool living experience like this, I feel like there's no other college that has a living experience like that for incoming freshmen. That's pretty cool."

Several Florida Gators meet with Stadium House representatives to receive the keys to their new apartments on Sunday.

Several Florida Gators meet with Stadium House representatives to receive the keys to their new apartments on Sunday.

Shortly after his hiring at the end of December, Thompson, head coach Billy Napier, assistant athletic director of recruiting strategy Katie Turner and director of on-campus recruiting and football events Bri Wade got to work on offering their players a premier living situation, keeping with the person-first, player-second theme the new coaching staff has established during its first year in town.

"We looked at a few places and our head coach," Thompson recalled with a laugh, "as we were driving in the car down west University, he said 'Huh, Josh you should look into whatever this place is going to be. [It's] brand new, doesn't look finished but let's see what happens.' 

"So, I was able to get with the reps from Stadium House and it was a long process. Once we kind of got the bones of what they could really offer, we then started the Student Housing Initiative and had multiple people in meetings for multiple months. We really didn't finalize anything and get to a point where we could move forward until, really, about early July. That's when we were able to select Stadium House and get to the point to where we're at now to be able to move in today."

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Napier appeared to have a good eye for all-inclusive apartments despite Stadium House being under construction at that time. The complex includes parking, up to five-bedroom units, two swimming pools, a weight room, a Crossfit gym, numerous grills, a clubhouse featuring a golf simulator, a ping pong table, a karaoke room and much more.

Brown made note of a feature that the players will certainly utilize — Bluetooth mirrors. Tenants will be able to play music through speakers in their bathroom mirrors while they shower and get ready for their day. 

The south building of Stadium House apartments in Midtown Gainesville.

The south building of Stadium House apartments in Midtown Gainesville.

The program is covering tenancy costs with the scholarship funds allocated for rooming and boarding. Thompson thanked a litany of administration members for supporting the project such as athletic director Scott Stricklin, executive associate ADs for external and internal affairs Jay Jacobs and Chip Howard, associate AD Melissa Stuckey, executive associate AD for administration Lynda Tealer, football facilities coordinator Dan Straley and several compliance staffers.

For the first batch of leases, Stadium House could offer the team 26 of its 660 beds in the brand new, centralized complex. 

The long-term goal is to have Florida football players occupying 60 or more beds, placing the majority of the team within walking distance of UF's campus, The Swamp, the Midtown Area and anywhere else they need or want to be on a regular basis.

"As soon as I was able to announce that we were doing this," Thompson explained, "I literally ran out of spaces overnight."

A football-related aspect of moving the players into Stadium House? The program will provide Sealy Posturepedic mattresses for each student-athlete thanks to input from "sleep team" assistants, director of player athletic development Joe Danos and assistant for player development Frank Ogas. Both coaches specialize in rehabilitation and prehab and pushed for high-performance mattresses.

Napier, asked about the Student Housing Initiative by AllGators on Monday, pointed to his consistent pledge to improve the player experience as his motivation to partner with Stadium House. It will have a trickle-down effect to boost the program's recruiting efforts, much like the new training facility.

"Just trying to improve the product we have to sell and the player experience," Napier stated. "I feel like we needed to improve the living circumstances for the players. We’re very fortunate that we’ve done that. I think that our guys being right across the street here it’s in proximity to campus, [the] Heavener Center, [the Otis] Hawkins [Center for Academic and Personal Excellence]. Everything that they need is right here at their fingertips."

Brown, a former Gators defensive back in the early 2000s and a fifth-year member of the off-field staff, reiterated Umanmielen's message — at least at the University of Florida, nothing like this had ever been accomplished before. 

"I think this goes down as one of the greatest days in Gator football history, especially for something off the field," Brown said. "Just to see where we've come from from a facility standpoint to even our off-campus and on-campus living. It's just amazing. The guys love it." 

Stay tuned to AllGators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @SI_AllGators on Twitter and Florida Gators on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.