Erk Russell’s grandson continues family legacy at Bremen
Bremen’s Davis Russell and family. Photo: Corey Cusick, Times-Georgian
The sixth-ranked Bremen Blue Devils are 6-0 for the first time since the 2005 season and are coming off a 29-22 victory against Sonoraville in their Region 6/South opener. The small school, led by second-year coach Davis Russell, is 40 miles west of Atlanta and elected to play up in class to AAA with an enrollment of 675 students.
The Blue Devils are averaging 224 rushing yards and 131 passing yards per game. Junior running back Tyran Dobb and his twin brother, Tyric, are both threats on offense. Tyran has 101 carries for 743 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He averages 7.35 yards per carry.
The offense is controlled by quarterback Wade Cartwright, who has been described as a leader and winner by Russell. Cartwright has passed for 774 yards and four touchdowns on 60-of-93 passing. Wide receiver Jalen Dallas has 21 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He also has run for two TDs. Ben Barrow is another receiving threat with 18 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
The Blue Devils defense has allowed just 10.3 points, 46 passing yards and 92 rushing yards per game. Juniors Campbell Sweatt and Kade Berry split duties at linebacker and defensive backs. Senior corners Jarvis Buffington and Nate Daniels anchor the pass defense. Junior Brant Ivey is the only two-way player at defensive end and fullback.
“I am proud of our kids because they play so hard,” Russell said. “This group of kids play over their head. They love football and it is showing. When you do that and you have a team that loves each other and loves football, you can win one that you aren’t supposed to somewhere along the way.”
In 2016, Russell led Bremen to a 6-4 regular season before falling to Pierce County in the second round of the playoffs. This season, Russell has lofty goals, but when speaking to his players, he makes sure their focus is week-to-week. He lets the fans do the speculating.
“As far as AAA, I know it sounds cliché, but we try to go 1-0 each week,” he said. “We don’t look at the standings, but our fans do. Our fans love printing the AJC rankings and what have you. But we try to tell our kids to go 1-0 each week.”
The success Bremen has experienced this season could be traced back deep into the annals of Georgia football history. If there was ever a coach with football in his DNA, it’s Russell.
As a longtime UGA coach, an Erk Russell trademark was to butt heads with his players. At a 1979 game, Russell’s motivational move left him with a bloodied forehead. (Billy Downs /AJC staff)
“Well, Erk Russell was my granddad, so I grew up in a football family,” he said.
Erk, the legendary UGA defensive coordinator from 1964-1980, coined the term “Junkyard Dawgs” after speaking with a fan as a way to describe his under-sized defense.
“By our own definition, a Junkyard Dawg is a dog completely dedicated to his task, that of defending his goal line,” the elder Russell once said. “Further, he is very often a reject (from the offense) or the runt of the litter. Nobody wants him, and he is hungry. We had three walk-ons, four QBs, and three running backs in our original Junkyard Dawg starting cast, which averaged 208 pounds across the front. In short, a Junkyard Dawg is one who must stretch and strain all of his potential just to survive. Then he can think about being good.”
Before arriving at Georgia in 1964, Erk served as an assistant at Auburn from 1958-62 and Vanderbilt in 1963. After Georgia, he was the head coach of Georgia Southern from 1982-1989, where future Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson served as his offensive coordinator. Erk Russell led the Eagles to three national titles during his time in Statesboro.
The lineage, however, did not stop there.
“My father is Jay Russell, who is currently with the Georgia High School Association,” Russell said. “He was a coach the whole time I was growing up, both college and high school. And my uncle Rusty is a retired coach, so I am just from a coaching family, and all along I wanted to coach.”
Davis Russell took time on Tuesday to answer a few questions about his team, his family and Saturdays filled with football in a wide-ranging Q&A:
Q. Tell me a bit about yourself and Bremen.
A. I played at Valdosta State in college, and then I have coached at Tift, Berrien County, LaGrange for four years. I was a defensive coordinator Northgate for one, and this is my second year at Bremen. We moved a bunch but we sure are at a great place now. This is a great school system and a great town with unbelievable support. If you come to a game at Bremen on Friday night, there will be over a thousand cowbells in the stands, and it is a loud place that just loves football. A ton of support. And our crowd travels as good as anybody. But with all of that comes expectations, and our kids have answered the bell so far.
Q. Region 6 can get confusing with it’s North and South sub-regions. Can you explain the situation a bit?
A. Right now, you have us and Calhoun are 1-0 on the South side; Sonoraville is 0-1, and Adairsville has not played a sub-region game. Up North there was an upset: [Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe] beat Ringgold and I think North Murray had a big win. So there are a couple of teams at 1-0. But the biggest thing right now in the sub-regions. You’re jockeying for position for that play-in game. Because, if you don’t win your sub-side, and the two No. 1s handle business, the best you can be is a three-seed in the playoffs, because the No. 1 from the South and No. 1 from the North will get the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. It makes it a challenge because the play-in game starts your playoffs a week early and if you don’t get the No. 1 on your side, there is a good chance you are on the road no matter what. The big dog in our Region, Calhoun, is down here in the South with us, and Adairsville is much improved. So for the next few weeks of our schedule — Haralson, Calhoun and Adairsville — are pretty tough ones.
Q. What do you have planned for this week’s bye situation?
A. We are going to worry about us. We are going to focus on fundamentals and detail. The last game we had way to many penalties. But we are going to focus on little things this week. And we are going to have a little bit of fun too, man. Friday night, you know, people don’t say they are going to a “football work,” they say they’re going to a “football game.” So we are going to have some fun this week. We may let the young kids scrimmage each other. Shoot, I have a couple of coaches who can still throw it and catch it a bit. I may see if the kids can cover Kail Singleton, who played defensive back at Georgia State. So we are going to have a little bit of fun while also getting ourselves better fundamentally.
Q. Who do you pull for on Saturday?
A. Well, I played at Valdosta State so I follow the Blazers, and of course, David Dean, who was my head coach my senior year, is at West Georgia so I follow them. But I am a big Georgia fan. My granddad was the defensive coordinator there for 17 years during the “Junkyard Dawg” era. And then dad played there; my uncle played there, so we are big Georgia fans.
Q. Jake Fromm or Jacob Eason?
A. I think that you go with the hot hand right now. Fromm is just a winner, man. I had to coach against him when I was at LaGrange. That kid is just a winner, man.
Q. What keeps you busy away from football?
A. My wife is a special-education teacher here at the school, a Special-Ed department head. I have a 4-year-old daughter, Carter, and I have a 2-year-old boy named Erk after my granddad. So I spend so much time with them. Yesterday we gave the kids off on Monday, so I went to Carter’s gymnastics and it was Erk’s second birthday so it worked out perfect. I love spending time with them. But I also have a very, very close staff. We get together almost every Saturday to watch college football together. My best friend from college, Drew Willis, is my offensive coordinator and he lives right down the street from me. I hired a bunch of guys around my age (32), and we just love hanging out and spending time together. And then, I will hit a golf ball on occasion, but not very well. I looked at my golf clubs the other day and they had a bird’s nest on top of them in the garage, so there’s that.