STATESBORO — Georgia Southern football broke ground on the future Wednesday.
Shovels were put in the dirt at Paulson Stadium to symbolize the beginning of construction on a $10 million football-operations center and an expansion of the seating on the north side of the facility.
Among those at the ceremony were GSU President Brooks Keel, Athletics Director Tom Kleinlein and football coach Jeff Monken.
“Every time I look at this stadium, I think about what it’s going to look like in my own mind’s eye, and I think it’s going to be beyond our wildest dreams,” Keel said. “The atmosphere and the environment is going to completely change.”
The privately funded football-operations center will be a 50,000-square-foot facility that will house home locker rooms, offices, workout equipment and a GSU football hall of fame.
The seating expansion, adding an additional 6,200 seats to the 14,444-seat stadium, is being funded by a $25-per-semester student fee, voted in place by the GSU student body during the fall 2012 semester.
The north stands will be extended to the end zones on either side, adding 1,100 seats that are expected to be ready by the start of the 2013 season. An upper deck adding roughly 4,000 seats will be constructed by 2014.
Georgia Southern also will begin play in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
“In 2014, there will be a brand-new stadium, competing in a brand-new conference at a brand-new level,” Keel said.
Monken said the improvements to the facilities are the next step in advancing the dream of former coach Erk Russell, who helped bring football back to Georgia Southern in 1981 and won Division I-AA national championships in 1985, 1986 and 1989. Georgia Southern also won national titles in 1990, 1999 and 2000.
“When Erk started here 30 years ago, nobody could have done what he did,” Monken said. “Without his leadership, without the things that he did, even in the first five years — winning the national championship and taking this program to a national prominence — this day never would have come.”
“When we go back to the days when the stadium was created and the vision the people had in creating the stadium, and now you look at where we’re taking it over the next year or so, it’s unbelievable,” Kleinlein added. “It’s a stepping stone to the future of Georgia Southern athletics and the future of Georgia Southern University. It’s a major step in our move to take this from a regional branded university to a national branded university.” Kleinlein said that in addition to adding to the game-day experience, the new facilities will help in recruiting.
The stadium expansion will be another positive aspect of GSU football that can be sold to potential recruits.
“We had the history, we had the tradition. Dr. Keel’s doing a great job with the academics with the university and what’s going on there, and now we’ll be able to show them the facilities,” Kleinlein said.
For Monken, the groundbreaking was just a small step on the way to bigger things in GSU’s future.
“There’ll be more days like this in Georgia Southern’s future, and that’s what’s really exciting,” he said.
The 2013 season begins at 6 p.m. Aug. 31 against Savannah State at Paulson Stadium.