Sept. 8 saw the passing of an amazing coach who shared his kind heart and motivational splendor with literally thousands of young men over the past quarter-century.
Sure, Coach Erk Russell was known to many for inventing the head-buttin' and no-nonsense Junkyard Dawg defense, but he also will leave behind a legacy of loyal followers and former players who were awestruck by his down-to-earth tactics and ability to motivate anyone to excel.
After orchestrating the University of Georgia's defensive program for 17 years, Coach Russell headed to Statesboro to take on the challenge of starting a football team at then-Georgia Southern College from scratch, which quickly became a national powerhouse. In spite of all of his successes and accomplishments, Erk remained a very humble man, even though he possessed such a charismatic presence. He shunned the spotlight and the glory of his accomplishments, and preferred simply to do what was best for his players to earn their utmost respect.
Even though he coached thousands of players, he had the uncanny ability to remember their names years after they hung up their helmets. He taught his players to "do right," and always to play with intensity and integrity. Oh, how nice it would be if today's politicians would embrace some of these common principles.
I had the honor of playing football for Coach Russell and, like thousands of other young men, feel truly blessed for this privilege. Heaven has a new coach, and this world needs more Erks.
Dennis Cheeks, North Augusta, S.C.
(Editor's note: The writer was a member of the first resurrected Georgia Southern football team in 1981.)