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Statesboro Blue Devils on the docket for Erk Russell Classic
SHS Football
After Statesboro High head football coach Jeff Kaiser, left, gives his state of the team address, senior running back Jalin Mikell takes the podium during the Erk Russell Classic press conference at Paulson Stadium on Friday, July 23.

Friday would have been Erk Russell’s 95th birthday. 

It seemed only fitting that on Friday organizers held a press conference at Paulson Stadium to officially announce the high school football teams that will play in this year’s Erk Russell Classic scheduled for Aug. 21.

Leading things off is a Class-A matchup between Clinch County and Macon County at 6 p.m. followed by a 9 p.m. meeting between the Statesboro Blue Devils and the Wayne County Yellow Jackets. The games were scheduled to be played last season but were cancelled due to health concerns with COVID-19

“It was disappointing to not be able to hold it last year,” said Daryl Hopkins, Erk Russell Committee member. “We are so excited to be able to put it on this year. We have a lot of teams with rich winning traditions coming and we hope they bring a lot of fans with them. It’s also great to have some former Eagles coming back with some of the coaches.”

The Blue Devils will be making a trip to Paulson Stadium for the first time since 2015. Head coach Jeff Kaiser understands what an experience it is for the players, coaches and fans to play in a college venue. 

“It’s a great opportunity for your kids to play in a great venue to help honor a great man,” said Kaiser. “The kids are so excited for this chance as well as many of their parents and grandparents who have been coming to Paulson Stadium to watch Georgia Southern for years.”

There are plenty of Georgia Southern ties to many of this year’s coaching staff including Macon County coach Dexter Copeland and Clinch County coach Don Tison who both graduated from Georgia Southern. Wayne County assistant head coach Mike Ward not only graduated from Georgia Southern but helped the Eagles to two national championships in 1999 and 2000.

“It brings back so many memories for me any time I step on that field or come to a game,” said Ward. “I was fortunate enough to coach at Effingham County and play here in the first Erk Russell Classic and this time around I will have my whole family down on the sidelines with me. My son plays football and is in the seventh grade, my daughter is an athlete at Wayne County and my wife is the cheerleading coach. We are all so excited about this and to play a great program like Statesboro will make it even more special.”

And while Kaiser played collegiately at UGA he still has memories of coming to Paulson Stadium and watching Georgia Southern football games, as well as getting to know coach Erk Russell growing up in Statesboro.

“Growing up in Snooky’s restaurant and seeing him there all the time are great memories,” said Kaiser. “Coming in the doors and seeing Coach Russell was always special. He was a great man and a great coach. I am very honored to be able to play in a game that honors a man like him.”