When All-American Georgia Southern defensive
tackle Brent Russell was a senior at Madison County High School in 2007, he took a recruiting trip to Georgia Southern.
The Eagles just happened to be playing Furman that day.
In the game, a 24-22 loss in front of 23,373 fans, the Eagles missed a 33-yard field goal that kept them from winning the Southern Conference and ultimately from making the playoffs.
But it wasn't the game's outcome that endeared Russell to GSU. It was the atmosphere.
"It was pretty packed," he said. "There were people in trees, there were so many people. With Furman, you've got something special."
The rivalry between the two teams dates back long before Russell, or anybody currently with the Eagles, for that matter.
In fact, in the 1980's the teams went 1-1 against each other in national championship games.
The 1988 national championship remains Furman's lone title, the the Eagles won it all again in 1989 and 1990.
By the time current GSU coach Jeff Monken joined the staff as an assistant in 1997, the Eagles were on the verge of winning their fifth and sixth national titles. Still, the rivalry with Furman remained heated.
"We had a game up there in 1998 where we beat them pretty badly, then in 2000 when we went up there again, they just beat the snot out of us in the second half," Monken said. "Gosh, I remember that. I remember that game as much as I remember any of them. Every game other than that has been a fight to the finish."
Victor Cabral, now assistant GSU defensive line coach, was a player under Paul Johnson and Monken, and later coach Mike Sewak at Georgia Southern.
"There's always the good memories and there's always the bad memories," Cabral said about the Furman rivalry. "They were our first home playoff loss in 2001. We were up at halftime, we ended up with a sack at the end of the half and we were getting the ball back. Then some events happened that weren't so great."
The following year in Greenville, S.C., the Eagles got their revenge in a game that began with a mishap involving Furman's mascot.
"That was the year the knight fell off the horse," Cabral laughed.
The Eagles won that game 42-21.
The Paladins always seem to have deep history against GSU on their coaching staff. First-year head coach Bruce Fowler has been facing the Eagles and the triple-option offense for over a decade.
"He has a lot of experienced facing Georgia Southern teams," Monken said about Fowler. "He left Furman after 2001 with Bobby Johnson to go to Vanderbilt, and he was the defensive coordinator there. We faced them [when we were] at Navy and at Georgia Tech, so he's got plenty of experience facing the option as a defensive coach."
Knowing the history, the coaching staff doesn't need to do much to encourage the current group of Eagles when Furman comes to town.
"You really don't need a whole lot of external motivation for this one," said Cabral. "You're taught on your recruiting trip about the rivalry between Georgia Southern and Furman. It's a respectful rivalry, and it's a pretty balanced rivalry right now. There's just something about it."
Kickoff at Paulson Stadium is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.