HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Chad Pennington stood at a podium beside the site of Marshall's future indoor athletic complex Friday afternoon and talked about how his former New York Jets Coach Bill Parcells often compared the NFL to a train. He told the former Marshall superstar quarterback that you always have to be ready for that train to move.
"This project is like a train," Pennington said minutes before he and others stuck shovels into dirt at the complex's groundbreaking ceremony. "And it's moving and it's going forward. And if you haven't been a part of it yet, then jump on, because we're leaving. It's leaving the station and we're moving forward."
The facility, which begins construction within the next 60 days, will include a 120-yard turf field, a 300-meter track, space for a new Marshall Hall of Fame, a new student-athlete academic center and a Sports Medicine Translational Research Center. The contract was awarded April 18 to J&H Erectors out of Portsmouth, Ohio for $16,350,000.
"I've said this from day one, we're going to do more with more at Marshall," Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said. "I'm tired of doing more with less."
While the indoor football practice field has gained much of the publicity in the project, everyone who spoke at Friday's ceremony emphasized that all student-athletes will benefit from its construction. Junior sprinter Hadassah Lynch, a Parkersburg native, and her fellow women's track and field teammates often have to run on a rubber mat in the hallways of the Henderson Center. She said this new facility will be a blessing to her team.
"There's a good chance I won't get to run in the indoor facility," she said from the podium, "but knowing that the young ladies after me will brings happiness to my soul."
The university has been raising funds to build this indoor facility and other athletic facilities around Marshall through the athletic department's Vision Campaign. Pennington and current Los Angeles Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni, also a Marshall graduate, were honorary co-chairs of that campaign.
The campaign has a goal to raise $20 million and already has raised $15 million toward that goal. Of that money raised, $5 million had come from a previously anonymous donor, revealed Friday to be Jim Justice, chairman and owner of the Greenbrier Resort.
"I really want what is best for Marshall and this project is definitely that," said Justice, a two-time golf team captain at Marshall, in a letter read during the ceremony. "I'm very, very proud of what Marshall is doing in athletics, and the direction we're headed in the future. This is just a great day for the Thundering Herd."
The indoor athletic facility is one of many new facilities built and others to come for both academics and athletics, Marshall President Stephen J. Kopp said. It won't be a quick process, he said, and there will be challenges ahead. But he said that the groundbreaking the university celebrated Friday is evidence that Marshall is dedicated to growth and improvement.
"We have a lot of challenges here," Kopp said. "And anyone who has not been paying attention … look at a picture from 2005 and look at a picture of this campus from 2013 and ask yourself, 'Have we done anything?' Hell yes, we've done things, and we'll continue to do things."
-- Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.