State Breaks Ground On Seal Jr. Complex

When Leo Seal Jr. was battling to make the Bulldog varsity, he acquired the nickname ‘Scraps'. Not just for effort in finding a place on the roster, but for taking training table leftovers in search of a little more playing weight. Now, many decades later, the current generation Seals are commemorating their father with a facility that will be pure premium football fare.

Seal brothers Lee and Leo III, each MSU lettermen of the 1990s, joined University and athletic department officials Thursday for a formal groundbreaking ceremony, that marks the official start of construction on the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex at Mississippi State. Lee spoke for his family, and for both his father and grandfather who also played on Scott Field in their day, about how this project continues and expands a legacy.

"It's been a long time getting where we are," Lee said. "All the former coaches, players, alums, everything, many more before us. And it's exciting to be part of the next step."

The Complex, a 80,000-square foot facility with a $25 million pricetag, will take shape on the hill behind the Palmeiro Center over coming months. Athletic director Scott Stricklin hopes to have it finished about the time the 2012 Bulldogs return from their bowl game, with a more formal opening in spring 2013.

Stricklin, the Seal brothers, University president Dr. Mark Keenum and Coach Dan Mullen participated in the formal first-shoveling of already loosened dirt between Palmeiro and the baseball office building. "What a great day to be a Bulldog!" said Dr. Keenum.

"We're celebrating a wonderful addition, not only to our athletic program and football team but to enhancing this University as a whole. It is going to be a tremendous addition to all that we're trying to accomplish."

"This facility will allow us to compete with the rest of the Southeastern Conference schools," said Mullen, who began looking into such a football-specific facility from almost the day he arrived on campus. The Seal Jr. Complex will house coaching offices, locker room, training room, weight room, meeting spaces, and all the other activities that go into organizing and training a SEC-level program. Bulldogs of the future can do everything with the Complex except practice—the facility will overlook soon-to-be renovated fields for that—and then play the actual games.

Naturally, Mullen pointed to the other benefit of such a specialized structure. "It will allow young men to say not just Coach, you have a beautiful campus, a great community, nice people; they're also going to say your football team and gameday atmosphere and facilities are as good as anywhere in the league. This is the type of school I want to attend."

Mullen came to the groundbreaking directly from the morning walk-through in advance of this evening's home opener with LSU. "Not many coaches would show up on a gameday for an event like this," Stricklin said. "That's how much he understands the big picture."

About 150 folk were attending, many of them directly involved in either funding the project or actual hands-on planning. Literally many, per Stricklin. "I think at times we have more architects on payroll than we do coaches! And they have about the same temperament!" Among those present were principle architect Bob Luke of LPK in Meridian, Miss.; Marty Haynes of HMTB, a sports design consultancy in Kansas City; and officials from JESCO of Fulton, Miss., announced Wednesday as the contractor for the project.

"We're very excited a Mississippi firm is going to be constructing this building," Dr. Keenum said. He also recognized some of the other primary donors to the project, including Jim and Julie Rouse, Tommy and Terry Nusz, Bruce and Julie Morton, Tommy and Bessie Lynn Crane. According to the president there are about 350 donors overall on the Complex project. "Seventy of which have made contributions of $25,000, that is absolutely outstanding."

"And of course the Seal Family Foundation have gotten the ball rolling with the largest gift in Mississippi State athletic history. We are immensely grateful and we know your confidence will be richly rewarded by generations of student athletes to come, when they take the field and when they pursue their lives beyond this campus and their career here at Mississippi State."

The Seal Family Foundation's spring-announced gift of $12 million did indeed set State's standard. Though it was only the latest contribution by generations of Seals to their state's leading University. This one is somewhat special, though. The M-Club Building at Davis Wade Stadium honors Leo Sr., and the business school on campus other Seal scions.

When Lee and Leo III were looking into helping Stricklin and Mullen with this common goal of a football facility, they saw the time was right for their father to get overdue recognition. Leo Jr. was not unknown to MSU fans of course, but he rarely cared for the attention that came with longtime support of the University and its athletic programs. "He did so much behind the scenes," Lee said.

"We said we've got to have something on campus named after him." Now, there will be, and it will serve as the ‘introduction' to Mississippi State's campus to anyone coming from the northwest corner. The facility will signify that future Bulldog ballplayers won't have to scramble for SEC scraps any more.

Not, Lee added, that dad would be entirely happy with his name showing so prominently. "He would probably kick our butts if he were here right now!"

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