Planting the Flag: Vision for 'athletic village' takes root

August 31, 2011

There has never been a better time to be a fan of Texas A&M sports and a supporter of Aggie Athletics.

The Texas A&M athletic department on the whole is experiencing unprecedented success on the field of play; Mike Sherman’s football team enters 2011 with as much anticipation and expectations as high as A&M has seen in at least a dozen years.

And to top it off, the Aggies are on their way to the Southeastern Conference.

While things are rolling along nicely for Aggie football, both on the recruiting trail and with the current squad, Sherman and Co. are dreaming big and looking for much more.

That “more” is on the way, as the 12th Man Foundation unveiled Sherman’s vision for an athletic “village” this summer. The idea stemmed from a facility that he had with the Green Bay Packers and, when finished, would rival any multi-purpose, multi-sport athletic complex in the entire nation.

Sherman backed up his vision and kick-started the fund raising campaign for what will turn into a $25-million master-planned facility overhaul that will be built in phases. The first phase will be a football-only player development center adjacent to the Bright Complex, which will provide that “wow factor” for players and prospective student-athletes when they are on campus.

Billy Liucci and I spent part of Wednesday afternoon having lunch inside the 12th Man Foundation offices and talking with the 12th Man Foundation representatives about what they are calling the “Sherman Football Initiative.”

“The purpose of the [Sherman] initiative is to create a unique, branded, one-of-a-kind overall football experience to maximize recruiting, player development, post-eligibility relationships from former players and a building for fan interactions, emphasizing pride and a personal experience,” said Stu Starner, senior vide president of major gifts for the 12th Man Foundation.

The Sherman Football Initiative, in total costs, will equal roughly $25 million. Here is how it breaks down:

* Player development center: $9 million
* Student nutrition center: $8 million
* Branded entryway coming off of George Bush: $2 million
* Recruiting arrival center and gathering place in front of the Bright Building: $3 million
* Renovated locker room: $4 million

“This is master-planned, which means it all won’t happen at once,” Starner said. “The funds have to come from donor money. There is no state money and grants are not allowed.”

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So far, so good. The donations, starting with Sherman’s lead gift, are coming in at a steady pace and Starner expects to break ground on the project by January, 2012.

“We are fast-tracking this football development center,” Starner said. “It’s the fastest facility we’ve been able to bring on board. In March [2011], we contacted HKS out of Dallas to do a master plan for the football village. We selected an architect and contractor, Acklam Construction, in April. We began working the fund raising plan in May. We submitted the plan to the A&M Board of Regents for approval, and they’ve given us the go-ahead.

“By December, we need 75 percent of the funding [which would be $6.75] to actually start construction,” Starner added. “We’re right on target for that. In January, we expect construction to begin in front of the Bright [Complex]. We’re hoping that by late August, we can complete that facility, which will be a great asset to recruiting. And we would like to dedicate it in November.”

Starner went on to lay out the details of what the player development center will provide for the A&M football players during their time on campus.

“It will be a 20,000-square foot, football-only, glassed-in, state-of-the-art ‘wow.’ A recruiting ‘wow,’” Starner said. “There are no pillars. It will be an awesome, open space emphasizing in strength, speed and endurance along with some additional counseling components from staffing that will be added.”

When all is said and done, the area surrounding the Bright Complex will be transformed into a college football player’s paradise. Future phases to the “village” will include a state-of-the-art nutrition center, a branded entryway with traffic coming to the new-look Bright Complex from George Bush Drive (on the west side of the Foundation Building), a recruit arrival center and gathering place for fans and renovated locker rooms.

And, eventually, there will even be a special building for former players that is much larger and more accommodating than the current A&M Lettermen’s Lounge, which has a capacity of roughly 100 people.

Now, during construction, if you notice John David Crow’s statue being taken down, don’t panic. The plan is to move that statue about 10 feet to the east or west to re-center it with the new entry of the Bright Complex.

All of this effort is geared toward giving head coach Mike Sherman everything he needs to win at the highest level consistently over a long period of time.

“Coach Sherman sold us on his message about his needs,” Starner said. “[He said], ‘Ultimately, to be successful, we must recruit at the highest level. To be able to recruit the best of the best, football facilities need to be on par with our major competitors. Right now, they are not.’”

*Note from the 12th Man Foundation: If you would like to make a donation to help fund the Aggie Football Player Development Center, contact the 12th Man Foundation’s Major Gifts Department at 866-288-9900.
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