The Hibernation is Over - Football Returns
Groundbreaking Held for Football Complex
Nearly one year to the day after the Mercer Board of Trustees unanimously approved the resumption of intercollegiate football at the University, ground was broken for the stadium complex where the Bears will begin playing in 2013. Mercer last fielded an intercollegiate football team in 1941.
Following the Nov. 11, 2011 board meeting, trustees, University officials and community leaders participated in the 2 p.m. ceremony, which was held on the lower field between the University Center and the tennis courts, adjacent to the stadium site.
The stadium complex will also be home to the Mercer lacrosse program. Men’s lacrosse — the first NCAA Division I program in Georgia — began competition last spring, and the women’s lacrosse team is scheduled to begin intercollegiate competition in 2013.
Mercer’s first football recruiting class was signed in February 2012 and the team has been practicing on the new field this fall. The team’s first home game will be Aug. 31, 2013. The opponent will be Reinhardt.
The sights and sounds of intercollegiate football will be returning to the Mercer University campus after an absence of more than 70 years. On Nov. 10, 2010, the University’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a plan to resume competition in football in fall 2013, and that has set in motion a number of steps to prepare for Mercer’s return to the gridiron.
“Reinstating football was a well-thought-out, carefully deliberated decision by the board that followed more than two years of study and discussion,” then-board chairman W. Homer Drake Jr. said when making the official announcement. “The board’s action reflects the trustees’ support for President Underwood’s ongoing efforts to further strengthen the University’s academic profile, reputation and level of student engagement.”
As a component of the decision, Mercer sought out — and recently was granted — membership in the Pioneer Football League (PFL), one of only three NCAA Division I conferences in the nation — the others being the Ivy League and the Patriot League — whose members compete in non-scholarship football. The Pioneer League is the only one that is a football-only conference. In June, the Bears’ program was officially accepted into the PFL for membership.
The PFL’s current members include Butler University and Valparaiso University (Indiana); Campbell University and Davidson College (North Carolina); the University of Dayton (Ohio); Drake University (Iowa); Jacksonville University (Florida); Marist College (New York); Morehead State University (Kentucky); and the University of San Diego (California). Stetson University in Florida, which also will resume competition in football in 2013, was admitted to the league at the same time as Mercer.
“This kind of college football will enhance our academic reputation by aligning us with other outstanding universities that compete in Division I non-scholarship football and by making Mercer even more competitive in attracting the most sought-after students,” President William D. Underwood told a packed press conference audience in the University Center. “By attracting and retaining outstanding students, by aligning the University with other leading colleges and universities, and by raising the visibility of the University through the exposure that a football program brings, the sport will play a role in achieving Mercer’s aspiration of being more widely recognized among the ranks of America’s finest private institutions.”
With a program and a league, Mercer also needed the right head coach for the job. On Jan. 20, the University got its man when President Underwood introduced former Furman University head coach and Georgia native Bobby Lamb to guide the Bears.
“Bobby Lamb embodies the goals and direction we set for the reinstatement of football at Mercer University,” President Underwood said. “His track record in recruiting and coaching young men who are serious student-athletes is well established. He brings the kind of integrity and character that will mold young men into leaders.”
“In searching for a head coach to re-establish the football program at Mercer, we looked for traits such as strong leadership, strong character and the ability to understand the goals and objectives for the program set forth by President Underwood and the Board of Trustees,” Director of Athletics Jim Cole added. “Bobby Lamb quickly rose to the top of our search list. His on-the-field success is just icing on the cake compared to what he brings to the table as a person. He is a ‘winner’ by every criterion.”
Since assuming duties as Mercer’s head coach, Lamb has seized every opportunity to spread the word about Mercer football via such avenues as speaking engagements, media interviews and summer football camps. He has been equally aggressive in attacking all the nuances that come along with starting a football program from scratch.
“I think football is going to be good for the student body because we aren’t going to have to travel to Atlanta or Athens anymore to watch a college football game. We are going to have something right here on campus. I think it’s also going to be good for Macon — people can come and see what Mercer has to offer. We already added lacrosse, and the more sports we get, I think the more support we are going to get.”
— David Randall, junior, marketing/management major, Lawrenceville
While Lamb’s “to-do” list probably grows larger each day (“I have the responsibility of planning for everything from tackling dummies to shoe laces,” Lamb quipped.), the one thing he can scratch off his list is the helmet design for the Mercer team when it takes the field. That task was actually turned into a fan poll at the Athletic Department’s “BIG Bear Event” awards night/fundraiser, with the winning entry — a black helmet — announced at the end of the evening.
Although Mercer has not competed in football since 1941, the University at one time had a rich football tradition. The first intercollegiate football game in the state — and one of the first in the Southeast — pitted Mercer against the University of Georgia in January 1892. Georgia Tech’s first football game was against Mercer in November 1892, a 12-6 victory for the Bears. Mercer’s last football game was against Chattanooga.
“As a former Mercer student-athlete, I know the benefits of competing in intercollegiate athletics at a University like this,” said Diane Owens, current chair of the Board of Trustees. ”There are many outstanding young men around the state and the Southeast who want a rigorous, liberal arts-based education, but who also want to continue to compete in football. Like other former Mercer student-athletes, many of Mercer’s future football players will go on to become leaders in their communities and their professions. I am very excited about the return of football to my alma mater.”
Mercer’s last football game was against Chattanooga in 1941.