December 04, 2012
Mike Anthony, Statesboro Herald sports writer
When Erk Russell arrived in Statesboro, it wasn’t much more than a sleepy little town with a nice little school.
By the time he was through, both the town and Georgia Southern University were on the rise, and the Eagles’ football team was a larger-than-life force dominating the national landscape. In turn, Russell’s own likeness took that form Saturday as a statue depicting the Eagles’ first coach of the modern football era was unveiled before GSU’s 24-16 second-round playoff win over Central Arkansas.
Russell now stands guard outside the gates of the stadium. If he were to get up and walk over to the field, I think he’d find that the program he helped build from borrowed equipment, old milk jugs and “beautiful” drainage ditches is still looking like the football power he formed it into.
This year’s Eagles will now follow in the footsteps of five of Russell’s Eagle squads as they head on to the quarterfinals to take on Old Dominion in a rematch of last year’s instant classic.
Georgia Southern moved forward in the playoffs by winning a game that — as so many contests have been this season — wasn’t always the prettiest and had fans on the edge of their seats well into the fourth quarter.
That might not be the ideal way to get through games for the faint of heart, but Erk was never one to shy away from giving the GSU faithful games that turned some hair gray.
After all, Russell built his legend on transforming GSU into a football machine, but much of that mountain building was done via thrilling postseason wins, the likes of which easily could be recounted by any of the hundreds of Eagle fans who took time to stop and admire the statue Saturday.
With the return of the triple option, even the players on the field can bring back images of those 1980s Eagles teams.
Back then, GSU was forced to compete with walk-ons and cast-offs. Those “runts” had to try harder, but they were able to build a dynasty. With GSU’s unique offense, the Eagles are still routinely undersized — though now, it is more by choice than by necessity — but held their own against a big and powerful Central Arkansas squad to notch another playoff win in the annals of Paulson Stadium lore.
Times have changed and eras have passed in GSU football history, but everything will come back to the work of Russell, and with the addition of his statue, he’ll always be right in the middle of the action.
Only a handful of this year’s Eagles were even alive when Russell coached his last game, but the 2012 edition of Georgia Southern is still making him proud up there. Following the mantra that is now forever emblazoned on the chest of Russell’s statue, the Eagles lined up on Saturday, fought hard and earned the right to play one more time.