"Through the Seal family we're taking our steps forward into the future," said Coach Dan Mullen.
A future that honors part of Mississippi State's past. This particular gift is being made by Lee and Leo Seal, the twin brothers who played for Mississippi State in the 1990s; and in honor of their late father Leo Seal, Jr., himself a former Bulldog (1947-48) and son of another, Leo Seal, Sr., (1909-10). Seal, Jr., was the president of Hancock Bank and was a consistent supporter of the University and its athletic program.
Seal, Jr., passed in November 2008 and was honored during MSU's victory over Arkansas days later with wreaths on the Seal M-Club Building, which he funded in the 1990s to honor his own father. His sons Lee and Leo were unable to attend Wednesday's announcement, but will be on campus in coming days as part of Super Bulldog Weekend and will coach the Maroon team in Saturday's spring game. Jim Rouse, who helped fund the current Bulldog weightroom in the Holliman Center, and wife Julie will coach the White team.
Wednesday's announcement by Stricklin and Mullen marked a major step in a project espoused by the coach since soon after his December 2008 arrival. "This gift we're talking about today is going to go towards construction of a new football training and office facility along with renovation of our current football practice fields," said Stricklin.
"The total project is going to be between $20 and $25 million. With the Seal gift and some other donations from 35 Bulldog families, more than $17 million has currently been raised." And, Stricklin added, "All this project will be done through private gifts made through the Bulldog Club, there will be no state dollars."
But there will be state approval of the project required for the Bulldog Club to lease the land on campus. Stricklin said today that there is no real hurry to pursue this detail as more fundraising remains before State presents a formal request to the IHL. That will happen when both the financing and final exact architectural plans are settled. Mississippi State published several renderings of what the facility will, largely, look like from either side; as well as schematics for the interior. All are subject to continued tweaking per Stricklin.
As for the time-line? "We all want to get started sooner rather than later. Our staff continues to work toward securing the additional financing and additional gifts needed to make this reality. Aggressively speaking you'd love to start before the end of the calendar year. I think we can do that, I think we have people ready to step up and help us get to that point. Then once you get started it can be a 12-to-14 month build project. If we could start earlier, we get done earlier and Dan and our football program begins to use it earlier and we get to reap those benefits."
Just having such a facility will be the first benefit says the coach. A very, very large one, too.
"The design and the vision of the facility that we have will put us, I feel, as the premier football facility in the SEC," Mullen said. "We try to build ourselves to where week-in and week-out we're competing against the best programs in all of college football. For us to be able to come in with the help of all the people that are getting involved in this project when we get this facility built and can say we have one of if not the best facility within that conference; that means we're one of the premier national programs, facility-wise."
The Seal complex will be 80,000 square feet and crammed full even at that size. Besides offices for coaches and staff, meeting rooms for full team and separate units, there will be a football training room, weight room, and locker room. Though Mississippi State already has all these necessary items, and barely five years old at that since the major additions to the Shira Complex, the pace of progress at this level of the game signals a need for what Stricklin called an "all encompassing" facility for football's exclusive use.
"When Dan got here he immediately started talking about the need to bring all our football operations under one roof." Nor did Mullen just talk; "He was instrumental in conversation with various donors to get to the point we are at today."
Such a facility is far from a selfish investment in a single team, even if that is by-far the most important sports squad on a SEC campus. Most other Bulldog and Lady Bulldog teams will benefit from having the current Shira/Holliman facilities freed for greater use at convenient hours. The athletic administration has far out-grown the Bryan Building in just 15 years too, and will gain priceless office space once football operations move across the street.
"We have functional facilities right now," Mullen agrees. "But we want to make that step forward. We're trying to go from good to great, and this will allow us to do that. The players will learn, train, change, practice all in one area and not have to walk to another building." Well, not unless weather forces practicing indoors. In that case the walk to Palmeiro will be short, direct, and free of interference.
And speaking of direct access, this works in other ways. Bulldogs won't have to come across any street to see their coaches; the staff will be immediately available whether players always like it that way or not. On the whole of course Mullen sees such consistent interaction of coaches, staff, and players as further improving the collective relationships that are at core of his approach.
"We're a very tough football program, but a very family-oriented football program," said Mullen.
Family is obvious in how the Seals have given Bulldog football, and by extension the entire University, this latest and so far greatest show of support. "I want to thank Lee and Leo on carrying on the family tradition of unbelievable support," Mullen said. "Not only of our athletic department, of our University. To make that type of commitment to this football program, that they were a part of, that helps building the direction we're going in in the future, we couldn't be more grateful to them and their believe in what we see."
And, in what Mississippi State fans will see in seasons to come as this Seal complex becomes the special kennel for young Bulldogs of today and even prospects yet to sign-on. Which is something they may well be more inclined to do with such a structure rising as part of MSU's athletic plant.
"They'll understand how important it is and the commitment this school has made to this program and its student-athletes," Mullen said. "And it will allow us to continue to strive to recruit the top players in the state of Mississippi as well as the Southeast. I'm very excited to get this project underway, and to get us into this new facility and start pushing this program into the future to national prominence."