Mercer University Athletics Director Jim Cole joked that it was “the worst-kept secret around” after the university officially broke ground Friday on its new football and lacrosse facility.
Work on the project actually began six weeks ago for a stadium that Cole said will hold 6,000 seats. Mercer President Bill Underwood said it will cost “in the neighborhood of $14 million.”
The facility, which is next to the University Center and Claude Smith Field, will be made up of the Homer and Ruth Drake Field House; the William H. Anderson II Family Field; the Marshall and Jane Butler Family Plaza; and the Tony and Nancy Moye Family Football and Lacrosse Complex.
“This is another step in the process, but it’s a huge step,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. “You can believe in something, but sometimes there’s a feeling that you have to see it to really believe it. When they got the bulldozers out there and starting moving dirt around, that was a big day.”
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Mercer announced Nov. 19, 2010, that it was going to reinstate a football program that had not played since 1941. Lamb was then hired in January to be the 19th head coach in Mercer history. And in June, Mercer joined the Pioneer Football League.
Underwood said the goal is to have the stadium finished by September. The first game is set for 2013.
“We’ve got to have it ready to have that first class of players get out there and practice,” Underwood said. “That’s when it needs to be completed. I think everyone is really excited to see the progress we’ve made on the stadium and know what’s coming up next.”
The stadium will also be home to the school’s men’s lacrosse program, which began play this spring, and a soon-to-be-coming women’s program.
Cole said those three programs will add 180 student-athletes to the school’s athletics department.
“This is the culmination of the vision and hard work of a lot of people,” Cole said. “It’s a great day. We want to use athletics as a front door for the university and let people from all over the South and nation know about Mercer because we have a successful athletic program. That only in turn helps the university. It helps recruit, and it helps with the academic mission of or university, and we’re proud to be a partner in that.”
The next step for Lamb is a contact period with recruits starting Dec. 1. The Bears’ first recruiting class will sign in February. Having the plans for the stadium and showcasing the work on the stadium will be used in lining up that class.
“We’ve been out on the road recruiting, and when we can get with this kids face-to-face in December, we’ll be able to show them our facility and what it will look like,” Lamb said. “Recruiting is the life blood of a program, and the facilities play a huge part in that.”