by Rudy Jones, Furmanpaladins.com
Doug Allison is proud of the people who have come through Furman University’s men’s soccer program during his 18-year coaching tenure at the school.
While he’s contributed to the on-field development of world-class players like Ricardo Clark and Clint Dempsey, Allison’s pride extends beyond the boundaries of the pitch to how his players have succeeded in life.
“The right kids come here,” Allison said recently. “It shows by our alumni game at the end of each spring. We have so many alumni back who have just had a great college experience. We’ve prepared them academically; we’ve prepared them to make right choices in their life.”
It was during this past spring’s alumni game weekend that a ball began rolling along a path to where it has come to today: prior to the Paladins’ 6 p.m. match against UNC Greensboro, the playing field at Eugene Stone III Soccer Stadium on campus will be named Seagraves Field to honor former Furman athletes Graham Seagraves and his wife, Jarrell Starnes Seagraves.
Earlier this year the Seagraves pledged $450,000 towards the Furman Soccer Fieldhouse Project, intended to construct a $1.5 million building with locker rooms and other support facilities for the soccer programs.
The facts that Graham Seagraves and Clint Hill of Furman’s Development Office were teammates on the soccer team and that Jarrell Starnes Seagraves and the Development Office’s Stephanie Scurlock were friends and sorority sisters at Furman certainly didn’t hurt when it came time to nailing the gift down.
The completed facility will be a far cry from what Seagraves endured as a player.
He noted that the Paladins played in some of the top college soccer venues in the country during his career. “We were playing all the big boys, and when you go there you’re sitting in real locker rooms right by the stadium.
“When you’re at home you want that same feeling,” Seagraves said Thursday via telephone from Charlotte, where he is institutional director of sales for Russell Investments. “I don’t think there’s a prettier stadium in the entire Southeast or Mid-Atlantic in Division I soccer – and, perhaps, in the country. It’s a beautiful stadium; a beautiful field.
“Yet, we felt like the locker rooms we had at Furman were at a lower quality than the public high school I went to in Stone Mountain (Ga.),” Seagraves said. “They were over at the old (J. Lyles Alley) basketball gym. Either my freshman or sophomore year we moved the lockers around and built ourselves a little closed-in corner of lockers. We had to put the screws into the ground and the lockers to build ourselves that small little corner.
“We didn’t need the big, fancy, cush sort of environment to get the job done, but given the success we’d had and the national spotlight we’d brought to Furman, we always thought (the fieldhouse) was a missing piece to the program.”
Both Seagraves graduated in 2000. Graham Seagraves said the athletic scholarship money he and his now-wife (a tennis player) received facilitated them being able to get a Furman education.
“I wouldn’t have gone to Furman without Doug recruiting me there,” he said. “We were very much a middle-class family and Furman was not on the radar in terms of affordability without soccer and some academic scholarship help I received.
“I’ve got a special place in my heart for Furman based on the opportunity I was able to achieve through a soccer scholarship,” he said.
“The fieldhouse is something Doug and I and others have been talking about for seven years,” Seagraves said. “That was pre-children for us. We now have three children – our daughter’s 5, our son’s 2 ½ and we have a newborn who’s 8 weeks.
“Over the last seven years or so I just kind of assumed that project was moving forward and I said ‘yeah, I want to be a part of that. Just let me know how it’s coming along.’ I missed one or two alumni games due to children and different things going on in life.
“I came back this year … and Clint Hill and some of the former players were talking about where it stood,” Seagraves said. “He said ‘it stands exactly where it stood seven years ago. Everyone knows we need to do it; a lot of folks have said they want to help once things really got ramped up and going. But there’s just so much inertia. Fundraising for something like this is very difficult.’
“I said ‘Well, let’s do something; let’s get a catalyst to get this thing moving,'” Seagraves recalled. “Clint and I started talking about this project and what we might be willing to do at the time. At the time, I don’t think we were thinking of a gift of this size. We were thinking something smaller, but something that would really kick-start the project.
“Clint said ‘we have some pretty special naming opportunities,'” Seagraves said. “I wasn’t sure quite how I felt about that, to be quite honest. It’s not like my wife and I needed the recognition. Honestly, it was a bit uncomfortable at first.
“Clint and Stephanie came to town and we started thinking creatively as to how we might be able to do something,” Seagraves said. “Really, we just came up with a major game plan to get this thing done. I think we realized it was a great time in our lives to do something special.
“When I think about leaving a legacy behind, so often that happens at the end of your life, where something is actually left behind to a university or your kids” Seagraves said. “I just kind of felt intrigued by leaving a legacy during your life when you get time to actually enjoy it.
“We just got as creative as we could and gave with our hearts and were able to come up with something pretty unique,” Seagraves said. “We’re just thrilled about it.
“I look at this and think ‘My gosh, the size of this gift is just extreme, especially considering the upbringing my wife and I have had – very much middle class,'” Seagraves said. “My wife also was at Furman on athletic scholarship or she wouldn’t have been there. We don’t come from wealthy families; there’s been no inheritance.
“I think part of what’s made the gift even more special is it’s really come out of what we’ve been able to accomplish thanks to the foundation that Furman helped us build as individuals and in the working world.”
“I think the soccer alumni all agree that this is sort of the exclamation mark on the end of a sentence that is Furman soccer’s stadium and legacy,” Hill said.
Furman reached the NCAA Elite Eight and was ranked No. 2 in the country in 1999, when Seagraves was a senior and Hill was a freshman.
“That was a special part of my life,” Seagraves said. “We achieved something extremely special my senior year. That was our opportunity to win the National Championship. That laid the groundwork for Doug to bring in people like Clint Dempsey and Ricardo Clark and Walker Zimmerman, who’s there now.
“It was that Cinderella story that didn’t necessarily put Furman on the map, but put us at a different echelon within Division I soccer,” Seagraves said. “I felt like I left everything I had on that field as a player. This was an opportunity to lead by example again and leave everything that I have on that field with this gift. It just felt right.”
“It’s only fitting that Graham, as a leader on his team and now a leader in his community and a leader as an alum, be involved with the soccer fieldhouse and the donation being recognized to name the field at Eugene Stone Soccer Stadium,” Hill said.
“When we have that fieldhouse built, those facilities are done and recruits are coming in to sit on that open-air viewing deck watching the game with alumni and looking at the facilities, it’s a game-changer for Doug and the program,” Seagraves said; “an absolute game-changer.”
“The tremendous thing about it is Graham’s one of my kids,” Allison said Thursday. “I’ve known him since he was a young man playing soccer in high school, club and Olympic development on the (Georgia) state team.
“Having seen him come through that and Furman – he met his wife through Furman as well –and gone on to be a successful businessman and great dad to his kids; I’m so proud of him and Jarrell for what they’re doing.”
Fundraising continues, but the goal is to break ground in time to have the fieldhouse completed for the 2013 season, when Furman will be the host for the Southern Conference Men’s Soccer Tournament. Furman has raised approximately $1.1 million of the $1.5 million the project is expected to cost.
“The fact that it’s close (to being reality) is really good,” Allison said. “It’s something we’ve needed for a long time. We played Clemson a couple of weeks ago and beat Clemson. There were 2,600 people here and one bathroom. It’s pretty frustrating when people are queuing up for the bathroom.
“So many people come to our games; they need to be taken care of, too,” Allison said. “The whole experience will be important for them. Not only is it an entertaining product on the field, they want to be able to get a drink and a hot dog.”
Allison looks forward to having a halftime sanctuary for the players and officials when the elements are harsh – or if there’s too long a halftime line for the bathroom.
“A lot of times people say young alumni can’t contribute,” Allison said. “I think Graham has broken that myth. We’re so thankful for the (gifts from older alumni), but just to have one of the younger guys, and the way he’s challenged the other younger guys and they’re jumping in as well.
“It’s really, really nice to see the guys who played here are jumping back in and (Furman) still means something to them as well,” Allison said.
He gives Hill a lot of credit for rallying former soccer players to support the project.
“Without Clint Hill, this would not be possible,” Allison said. “He always deflects the amount of influence he’s had on this. It’s great that people are dipping in to give, but Clint is the backbone of this whole thing.”
School officials plan approximately $20 million in athletic facilities improvements over the next several years. Some, such as improvements at the baseball and softball stadiums, already are under way. The athletic improvements are part of overall fundraising program as part of the Because Furman Matters campaign.
Fans interested in the fundraising campaign can call Hill at (864) 294-3732
(Image by Shutterstock)
Rudy Jones wrote about hundreds of Furman University sporting events during his almost 40-year-career with The Greenville News and Greenville Piedmont. His coverage of the Paladins’ 1988 football national championship earned him a first place writing award from the South Carolina Press Association. The Travelers Rest native has a blog about college baseball in South Carolina: palmettostatebaseball.blogspot.com. Contact Rudy at email@example.com