With Friday night's Fourth of July celebrations fresh in the minds of local residents, it’s hard to believe that in just 50 days the midair explosions of fireworks will be replaced with the pad-crunching hard hits of Statesboro High football.
This August, the Blue Devils will begin their season with a showdown against former region rival Burke County as the nightcap of the third annual Erk Russell Classic held at Paulson Stadium.
The Erk Russell Classic began in 2012 as the pet project of Georgia Southern’s Eagle Football Alumni Association and has already seen two seasons of high attendance and compelling contests. By utilizing the same field that Russell used to create the Eagles’ football powerhouse, the EFAA is striving to make sure that Russell’s name will always be stamped on football events in Statesboro.
In addition to the pair of August 23 games — Statesboro will take on Burke following a clash between North Oconee and Coffee County — carrying his namesake, proceeds from the event will be donated to the Georgia Southern football program for use in awarding the Erk Russell Scholarship.
“This has certainly come a long way,” EFAA board member Darryl Hopkins said. “From four of us dreaming this up on the porch of Bishop Fieldhouse to seeing the last couple of years, it’s been great to watch this event come to life.”
Not only has the event stuck around, it’s becoming a destination on the wish list of many teams.
Georgia’s other early season football showcase, the Corky Kell Classic, routinely draws high-ranking schools — mostly from the metro-Atlanta area.
In its three years of existence, almost every team participating in the Erk Russell Classic comes from south of Macon.
“In the last year or so, teams have started to call us instead of us searching for teams to come here,” Hopkins said. “That definitely tells us that this is a good event and one that good teams want to be a part of.”
Initial plans were to expand the event — like the Corky Kell Classic — to include even more teams over multiple days of competition. Blazing hot temperatures and Paulson’s turf playing surface will keep the event to just two games in the immediate future, but with schools from Florida and South Carolina now showing interest in participating, the future is looking bright for one of the newest of Statesboro’s long line of football traditions.
In addition to the Erk Russell Classic serving as Statesboro’s season opener, it will also be the Blue Devils’ first contest as a Class AAAAA school — the second largest classification in Georgia — after the GHSA realigned classifications and regions last winter.
With a win, Statesboro would have 600 career victories on the football field, putting it in lofty company with just a handful of other prestigious programs throughout the state.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.