The Coastal Eagles Club and president Derek Sills are getting closer to fulfilling their dream of creating a life-size statue of former GSU football coach Erk Russell.
On May 27, the club hosted an Eagles alumni party, which coincided with a Pig-Paddy fundraiser and netted more than $20,000, according to Sills.
“We had a good time and we raised money, and that’s always a good thing,” Sills said. “We had anywhere from 150-200 people. And everyone from the coaching staff was there along with their wives. It was a big success. We envisioned cooking for 200 and we almost had no food left. It was a big crowd and everybody had a great time.”
Sills came up with the idea for a life-size tribute to the legendary coach back in November after visiting the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame and seeing that Testudo, the Maryland Terrapins mascot, had a statue of its own.
Russell revived a football program that was dormant for 41 years and took the team to three NCAA Division 1-AA championships and college football’s first 15-0 record in the 20th century.
The Erk Russell Project started gaining momentum after former University of Georgia head coach Vince Dooley offered his support and a donation. Russell was the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator under Dooley for 17 years.
The Pig-Paddy party was the first official fundraiser for the statue, and Sills said he and Danny Creasy, vice president of the Coastal Eagles Club, have started brainstorming ideas for another event.
Participants at the party purchased squares that were painted on the grass in a grid-style format. Manbear the pig, affectionately named after the Eagles’ standout defensive tackle Brent Russell, roamed through the numbered squares and eventually dropped a little present. The winning square belonged to longtime Eagles fan Buddy Powell, who won $5,000.
“The guy that actually won the money was a good friend of Erk, and he gave back half of the money for the statue,” Creasy said. “We had a huge crowd despite the crazy weather all around us, which, by the way, skipped over Bluff Creek.”
Creasy said the project also received what he called another big shot in the arm.
“On Monday, I received a check and a letter from Paul Johnson giving us his blessing and telling us he hopes we finish and get the money we need quickly,” Sills said.
“And when you think about that … now you have some of the most respected people in the state of Georgia where football is concerned — Vince Dooley, Paul Johnson, Hugh Nall and Tony Barnhart — that gives you a lot of big swingers getting involved.”
Sills said he is looking at two possible sculptors for the project.
“I’m down between two people, Jerry McKenna, who did all the statues for Notre Dame, and Stan Mullins, who did the Vince Dooley statue,” he said. “I’ve been very happy with everything they’ve told me, and their quality of work is top-notch.”
As they come up with ideas for the next event, Sills said the folks who attended the Pig-Paddy/alumni party left with a lasting impression.
“They said that our Eagle Club was a little bit different,” he said. “Somebody said to me as they were leaving, ‘If you’re a Georgia Southern alum in this area and you don’t come to this party, then there is something wrong with you.’”
For more information on the Erk Russell Project, go to www.eaglesforerk.org.