Remembering a Football Legend - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

09/08/06

Remembering a Football Legend

Erk Russell from WTOC file. Erk Russell from WTOC file.

They're remembering a legend who prowled the sidelines motivating his teams, fans and friends like no other coach. Erk Russell, the top Bald Eagle for years at Georgia Southern, and the Junkyard Dawg defensive leader before that, suffered a stroke while driving this morning in Statesboro.

"There's nothing like being a bulldog on Saturday night after beating Florida," said Russell.

Those were the words from the Bulldog defensive coach after the Bulldogs beat the Gators. Russell spent 17 years at Georgia where he built one of the country's finest defensive teams.

Louis Freedman played for Georgia in the '70s, and said he will always remember the man he calls the ultimate coach.

"Great motivator," said Freedman. "He could take the average player and make him great or phenomenal player. Coach Russell was a good part of my life."

Freedman says that Coach Russell was one of kind and will always have a place in his heart, and the hearts of many, especially those who played for him.

"Him coming into a room and lighting it up, and you would go through a wall for him there was no greater motivator," said Freedman.

In 1981, Russell took the opportunity to become the head football coach for Georgia Southern, which was a real challenge, since GSU hadn't had  a football team since the '40s, leaving Russell to start from scratch. During his eight years of coaching in Statesboro, he brought three national championships home.

Former GSU player Tim Durden just had lunch with Russell about a month ago. "I took a list of every guy that ever gave up their time for Georgia Southern and he could almost tell you a story about every single one of their names," Durden said. "I had over 1,200 names."

Durden said one of his favorite memories is when GSU played against Western Kentucky. "Those guys were big and we weren't supposed to beat them, but we found away to beat them," he said.

Erk Russell's funeral will be Sunday at 2pm at Paulson Stadium. He was 80 years old.

Reported by: Brooke Kelley, bkelley@wtoc.com

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