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Erk Russell Classic marks first event in new Paulson
081514 GSU FOOTBALL OP CENTER 04
Six national championship trophies are a centerpiece in the lobby of the new 50,000 square-foot Football Operations Center at Georgia Southern University's Paulson Stadium, which was unveiled to the media on Friday. Paulson's first event will the the Erk Russell Classic, which features a matchup between Statesboro and Burke County on Saturday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

3rd Annual Erk Russell Classic
Saturday, Paulson Stadium
Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the gate
    Tickets may be purchased at participating schools and at Georgia Southern's Ticket office

Delete - Merge Up5 p.m.

North Oconee Titans
vs.
 Coffee County Trojans

8 p.m.

Statesboro Blue Devils
vs.
 Burke County Bears

    The Georgia Southern Eagles played their first home football game of the new era at Statesboro High's Womack Field in 1981. It's only fitting that the Blue Devils will play in the first event of the newly-renovated Paulson Stadium.

    Statesboro will get a head start on much of the area as the Blue Devils kick off their football season Aug. 23, against Burke County at the Erk Russell Classic.
    There is never any shortage of excitement for opening night. The allure of breaking in the newly renovated Paulson Stadium, a large crowd and participating in the Erk Russell Classic for the first time in the event’s three-year history will all be highlights, but it goes even deeper for the Devils.
    “This is a great opportunity for our team,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “A lot of our guys grew up going to Paulson Stadium and watching football on that field. Georgia Southern is a part of our community the same way that we try to be, so it’s an honor to be able to take part in this event.”
    Statesboro was the obvious choice to be one of the inaugural teams to compete at the event, but previous commitments prevented the Devils from participating in each of the last two seasons.
    Now the big venue of Paulson will set the stage for Statesboro’s move up as the school will be competing in Class AAAAA for the first time.
Across the field from the Devils will be Burke County. The two schools are no longer region rivals as they have been in previous seasons, but will be looking to settle a score after trading hard-fought victories during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
As the Eagle Football Alumni Association is the sponsor of the event, the EFAA will run the event while Georgia Southern provides concessions for purchase by fans. A portion of proceeds will be used by the EFAA to help fund the Erk Russell Scholarship while participating teams will also earn a percentage of the profits.
    “It’s a win-win situation,” Pennington said. “With a good turnout, the EFAA will benefit with their scholarships and the four schools will get to play in a great atmosphere and get something for ourselves.”
    Pennington, who worked with Russell during the early days of Georgia Southern’s football revival, has firsthand knowledge of what it took to build the Eagles into a power and produce Erk’s legendary status that has now culminated in an annual event held in his name.
    “I remember something Erk told people very early on,” Pennington said. “He’d tell us that ‘Football is a point of pride in which a community can rally around.’ Erk was the creator of that pride that this community has rallied around and we are very happy to have the chance to play in a game that showcases that pride.”
    Tickets can be purchased at Statesboro High. Tickets purchased before the day of the game are $10. They and include the Statesboro game as well as the first game of the Erk Russell Classic between Coffee and North Oconee.
    Tickets purchased at the gate will be $15.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.