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Auburn great Bo Jackson not staying on sidelines in helping former coach raise awareness of ALS

Former Auburn running back Bo Jackson poses for a photo with his former assistant coach Frank Orgel (left) at the second annual “Changing the Game” event Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015 in Birmingham.
Former Auburn running back Bo Jackson poses for a photo with his former assistant coach Frank Orgel (left) at the second annual “Changing the Game” event Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015 in Birmingham. Ledger-Enquirer.com

Frank Orgel’s voice still carries weight with his former players.

When the ALS Association’s Alabama Chapter announced it was honoring Orgel at the inaugural “Changing the Game” Awards Dinner last year, Pat Dye’s former defensive coordinator reached out to Heisman winner Bo Jackson to join him at the event.

The dinner honors individuals afflicted with the disease. Orgel, who was diagnosed with the progress neurodegenerative disease in 2001, was a Spirit of Lou Gehrig Award Honoree along with former Alabama running back Kevin Turner.

A scheduling conflict prevented Jackson from attending, but the running back made a promise to put the dinner on his calendar for the following year.

Jackson honored his pledge Wednesday night as the keynote speaker of the event at The Club in Birmingham.

“He’s one of those guys that I would look at as a father figure,” Jackson said.

The two lost touch for a number of years, but reconnected when Jackson found out about Orgel’s diagnosis five years ago. He immediately travelled to Georgia to spend time with the coach that helped put a then McAdory High School upper classman on coach Dye’s radar.

“He saw me in high school (compete in the decathlon) and reported to coach Dye that he had to come see me,” Jackson said.

Jackson is proud to report the disease hasn’t robbed Orgel of the “ornery” nature the coach displayed on the field.

“He still has it,” Jackson said with a laugh. ‘Don’t let the wheelchair fool you. He’s still coach Orgel.”

Jackson’s bond with Orgel brought the former multi-sport star to Birmingham Wednesday night, but he’s long been part of the cause against ALS.

Jackson first learned about the disease more than 20 years ago when his former teammate with the Oakland Raiders Steve Smith was diagnosed with the disorder. Smith blocked for Jackson for a number of years (1987-1990) as the Raiders fullback.

“It hit home with me…” Jackson said. “It’s a devastating, debilitating disease.”

Jackson was happy to lend his profile to the event even if it means one more person takes the time to research the disease or donate to the fight.

“Any type of awareness we can put out there to let everyone know (about it), to get people donate because I know there are scientists and doctors working hard every day to find a cure,” Jackson said.

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