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Bisons christen awesome new digs

Long-awaited U of M home likely boost to program

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David Asper makes an emotional address at the official opening of the David Asper University of Manitoba Bison Football Centre at Investors Group Field Wednesday.

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

David Asper makes an emotional address at the official opening of the David Asper University of Manitoba Bison Football Centre at Investors Group Field Wednesday. Photo Store

The story is about as well-travelled as Brian Dobie on the recruiting trail.

For years, the Bisons head coach has been taking architectural drawings and photographs of the University of Manitoba football facility -- even when it was in only the planning stages -- to show prospects across the country he was recruiting for his program.

Current Bisons defensive lineman Ranji Atwall was one of those who listened to Dobie's the sales pitch and, ultimately, moved to Winnipeg from Richmond, B.C., five years ago.

"When I saw the blueprints for it, I knew I had to be a part of it. Not a lot of people get a chance to experience something like this," said Atwall at Wednesday's official opening of the state-of-the-art David Asper University of Manitoba Bison Football Centre at Investors Group Field. "Our facility is definitely what everyone (other Canada West conference football programs) is talking about."

'The effect it is going to have on decades and decades of student athletes is unmatched, at this point, in this country'

-- Brian Dobie

The gleaming new 17,405-square-foot facility is expected to have considerable impact on Dobie's recruiting success. It is also expected to help transform those recruits into better football players.

No longer are the program's players expected to do their weight training at the Gritty Grotto, located in the dingy, unfinished basement of the Frank Kennedy Centre.

They've also said so long the humble "rusty old Butler Hut," as many referred to the former team building at University Stadium. It remains what it always was -- an oversized shed with rusting, metal walls, mouldy carpet and staph infections waiting to happen.

The new digs have everything from personal electrical outlets for players in their stalls to a dishwasher in the kitchenette and a state-of-the-art weight room.

Dobie, now in his 18th year in charge of the Bisons program, believes the new locker-room and training facility puts his team above others with top digs across Canada, such as perennial national title contenders such as the Laval Rouge et Or and the McMaster Marauders.

"It speaks to the student-athlete experience, it changes everything," Dobie said. "It allows us to affect our culture, the professionalism, the confidence, the self-esteem of these young men, 17 to early 20s," Dobie said. "People want to throw in the word 'win,' and that's important for sure. But at the end of the day, the experience they have as they go through university, compete and represent this university through sport, we are now on a whole different planet. The effect it is going to have on decades and decades of student athletes is unmatched, at this point, in this country."

Asper, the U of M alum who has been credited with spearheading the project that saw the Bisons join the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the "football epicentre" at the U of M, was given a standing ovation by every Bisons player when he walked into Wednesday's unveiling with his wife, Ruth.

Asper was momentarily overcome with emotion.

"This place, it says we're serious about their (student athletes) success, academically and athletically," said Asper. "We didn't have that with Butler Hut. What does it say about your program when you live in a shack?"

On Friday, the Bisons will have a chance to christen the new Investors Group Field with the first football win by a home team when they take on the Alberta Golden Bears. Game time is 7 p.m.

"The mentality is the same. Nobody is feeling very comfortable in here right now," said fourth-year Bisons linebacker Al Turnbull. "We just had David Asper, the premier, the mayor, the president of the university, our own coach basically putting 1,000 pounds of pressure on us to win this Friday. So, let's get it done."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 D4

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