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Northwestern shows off new $270M Walter Athletics Center

Northwestern football finally looks more like a Power Five conference program with its new, jaw-dropping $270 million Walter Athletic Center and Ryan Fieldhouse, which has been deemed by some as one of the top facilities in the nation.

The Wildcats kicked off training camp with the grand opening of the new facility. Asked to describe the sports complex, coach Pat Fitzgerald said, “absolutely ridiculous.”

From a virtual-reality room that can simulate plays from practice to a custom weight room that can accommodate all 110 football players, Northwestern didn’t skip any corners when developing its new home for Wildcats athletics.

The biggest upgrade?

This is the Ryan Fieldhouse, which can seat 900 spectators. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

“To be quite frank? Everything,” Fitzgerald said.

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The coach boasted about the team’s new “man cave,” more commonly known as the players’ lounge, which has floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Lake Michigan and has a private balcony. As for the locker room, which includes barber’s chair, Fitzgerald said the school tried to build a “fun party house” for the team.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson said all of the cool hangouts for the players to enjoy downtime or study already has helped with team bonding.

“I think for our team, it’s really brought us together,” Thorson said. “Guys want to be here and get extra work in because they really enjoy this place.”

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The main focus of the facility was to make the players’ lives more efficient, Fitzgerald said. Previously, academic advisors, training tables, film rooms and the practice field were in different buildings. Now, they’re all under one roof.

Fitzgerald believes the facility also could serve as a recruiting tool.

“I think from a recruiting standpoint, you either have facilities or you don’t,” he said. “Obviously, this makes the statement from the university.”

As for the team — which owns the longest active winning streak in the FBS at eight — there are still a few glaring question marks, including who will start the season opener Aug. 30 against Purdue.

Thorson has made it clear he wants to start, but the Wheaton native, who’s recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the Music City Bowl last December, is being cautious.

“You obviously don’t want to rush anything,” Thorson said.

Backup quarterbacks TJ Green, Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty see this as an opportunity to prove themselves in camp.

Green, who is the only quarterback of the three who has completed a pass in a game, is the early front-runner for the starting role. But Smith and Marty shouldn’t be overlooked.

Fitzgerald complimented Green’s “system knowledge,” attributing some of it to his father, NFL quarterback Trent Green. But he also said Smith and Marty have “great athleticism” and “good arms.”

The trio said they’ve been supportive of one another on the sideline during practice.

“We’re all pretty close,” Green said. “But there’s definitely a competition going on, and we all know that. So when we hit the field, we’re still friends, but it gets pretty intense.

“May the best man win.”

Fitzgerald doesn’t seem too -worried.

“If Clayton’s ready mentally and he’s cleared physically from a standpoint of our medical team, then we’ll rock and roll and go in the opener,” he said. “And if not, we’ll have a plan for that.”