"We first met in Sunday school our third grade year," said Andrew. "We hit it off real well then. (Our friendship) started around sports. That was the common bond at first."
Sports. We should have known it would have something to do with sports because the friendship involved Wes Slay.
As most of you already know, Wes Slay is in graduate school at Mississippi State and works in the football office as a graduate assistant. His primary duties include preparing film for the coaches and helping extensively with recruiting. Most of you who follow MSU football recruiting have seen his name on my webpage or elsewhere.
I would guess that very few of you know who Andrew Seago is by name only. However, I'm sure most of you have seen him at a Mississippi State football, basketball or baseball game. He is a dedicated Bulldog fan who, with the help of what he calls his "posse" of Preston Jackson, Rick Fraga and several other private nurses, rarely misses a home game.
As you have already noticed in the picture above, Andrew is confined to a wheelchair. He has been wheelchair bound and ventilator-dependent since he was four years old. According to Andrew, an accident put him there.
"I was injured around the age of four by a gunshot wound," said Andrew. "I was at a grocery store and it was just a freak accident. It is a spinal cord injury."
When asked about being confined to a wheelchair, Andrew talks about it almost matter-of-factly. "I think because the accident happened at such a young age, that made it a lot easier for me because I don't really know any different. I have been in a wheelchair and ventilator-dependent since I was four."
Andrew didn't let what a lot of us would see as an obstacle get in the way of doing what any youngster would do, including attending school. After being home-schooled for the first couple of years of his school life, he attended public school from the third to sixth grade, then transferred to Jackson Academy.
A friendship that began three years earlier, but tailed off for several reasons, picked back up because Wes also attended Jackson Academy.
They now began doing things together outside of school. Wes even found out that just because Andrew was confined to a wheelchair didn't mean he was unable to do things those of us who aren't confined to a wheelchair can do. In fact, Wes found out that Andrew could do them better in some cases.
"The first time I went home with Andrew he brings out the Atari football game," said Wes. "He was beating me 100 and something to nothing at halftime. Talk about a humbling experience, you are sitting next to somebody who has no use of his hands and he is beating you by over a 100 points at halftime in an Atari game."
Andrew explained, part tongue in cheek and part not, the reason for his success against Wes. "I am a lot more coordinated."
As the years went by, Wes and Andrew did many other things together, including double dating to their prom and attending MSU sporting events, lots of MSU sporting events.
"Andy and I have made many a road trip to see the Bulldogs play," said Wes. "We have been to every SEC basketball tournament except for one. We drove to New York for the Final Four. We went to the Peach Bowl."
Another common bond: Mississippi State sports.
Andrew's love for Mississippi State came naturally. His dad and three older brothers all graduated from Mississippi State. Wes' love for MSU was more from his experience of going with Andrew to MSU games.
"Ever since the 7th grade, Andrew and I didn't miss an MSU home basketball game, even mid-week games," said Wes. "Naturally, Mississippi State grows on you. If you ever spend time (at MSU) you will fall in love with it. Even at a young age that started happening to me."
Their friendship continued to grow as did their love for MSU. However, while Andrew knew he was headed to MSU once he graduated from Jackson Academy, Wes had a more difficult decision. He played football while at Jackson Academy and wanted to continue playing it in college. Millsaps College gave him that opportunity.
Wes was living his dream of playing college football. However, that wouldn't last long due to a football career-ending injury. Now unhappy at Millsaps, he thought about moving on. Then, the perfect opportunity came along.
"I was unhappy at Millsaps. Andrew was already here at State," said Wes. "His brother, who was living with him (at State), had a job offer as a bank president but he would have to leave Starkville to take the job. The opportunity to come and live with Andrew allowed me to come to State and allowed Lee, his brother, to move on to his job."
Once again, their friendship brought them together.
While Andrew was in the process of living his dream of attending and graduating from college, Wes had to revise his dream. Instead of playing football for the next few years, he decided he would find a way to coach football while in college. Mississippi State offered the perfect opportunity. Wes became a student assistant in the MSU football office. His dream to coach football now began in earnest. He couldn't have been happier.
"It doesn't get any better than Mississippi State because it is SEC football," said Wes. "This was the level where I wanted to be."
Wes wanting to coach at the highest level of division-I that you possibly could came as no surprise to Andrew. In fact, the only thing that would surprise Andrew is Wes not becoming a huge success as a coach on the D-I level.
"I have always seen the dedication and love he has for football," said Andrew. "I saw his knowledge of the game even during junior high school football. He was like a coach on the field. He has always studied it. I think it is just natural for him because his parents aren't big sports fans. I truly think he has the ability to be a great Division-I coach some day because of his ability to relate to kids that play SEC football."
During the next couple of years, while Wes was living his dream of coaching on the D-I level, Andrew was also living his dream. Just as Andrew admired Wes for living his dream, Wes also was deeply impressed with Andrew accomplishing his dream of graduating from college.
"It is incredibly special," said Wes talking about Andrew graduating in Educational Psychology from Mississippi State. "His one goal was to graduate from school with good grades (3.62 gpa), and he obviously has done that. Now, he is going to get his masters. He is showing you that if you work hard you can do anything. It is unbelievable."
Not only did Andrew graduating from college impress Wes, but how Andrew handles his bad days is even more impressive to him.
"Everybody has a bad day, I have a bad day, you have a bad day and even Andrew has a bad day," said Wes. "If you ever start to think you have it bad, then you need to come down here when Andrew's fever is up and he is not feeling very good and you put him in that wheelchair when he is pale. And you see him go to class and you see him make A's and B's. That is impressive."
As an example of what a bad day is like to someone in Andrew's situation, Wes talked about one experience Andrew had that was the ultimate bad day. "Andy had gotten deathly ill the week before the 1999 Peach Bowl," said Wes. "I am in Atlanta in the hotel with the team, sick with a 101 degree fever. Andrew is in the hospital deathly sick (with septicemia, an infection of the blood). His mom called me at about 5 in the morning and tells me he might not make it. I am trying to figure out how I can get home and come back the same day. I carry that out to the practice field. As soon as we got back from practice, there was a very emotional call from his brother, David. He was on his way to Atlanta when Andrew got sick. He turned around and headed back to Jackson. About lunch time they called and said Andrew's body had finally accepted blood. His body had been refusing to accept the new blood."
Bad days or not, Andrew, who turns 24 on May 4th, is currently working on his masters at MSU. "I'm getting my masters in Rehabilitation Counseling. I have about another half a year to go. I will graduate in December (2002) or May (2003)."
Andrew, not one to ignore planning as far ahead as possible, knows what he will do once he earns his masters degree. "I am either going to go to law school or work for the state rehab agency or possibly get my PhD. I would like to work with disabled people, basically getting their lives restarted."
Andrew, obviously, has his future plans in order. What about Wes? What are his plans once he earns his masters degree in Sports Administration from MSU in May, 2002?
Wes quickly responds by saying that he hopes a future with Mississippi State football is in the cards. As he told me, "my birthday is June 14th. I hope I'm still at Mississippi State when I celebrate my birthday."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.