AUBURN, Ala. (WIAT) — Andrew Hopkins has been in thousands of pictures with Auburn fans at football games. He’s not a player, coach, or media member.
“I’ve been in Christmas cards before,” Hopkins says. “Because it’s just a unique thing to have your photo taken with these eagles.”
Hopkins is the Assistant Director of Raptor Training and Education at the Southeastern Raptor Center, just off campus at AU. Put simply, he trains the eagles that act as Auburn’s unofficial mascots and soar above Jordan-Hare Stadium before every game.
One of his responsibilities is to make the lures on which the eagles land. Hopkins cuts out two circles of leather (big enough that the eagles can’t grasp them with their talons, or else they’d never let go), stuffs plastic bags in between them, and gives them to student volunteers to paint. Each lure is painted specially for each game, then auctioned off afterward.
The highest price for a lure? The one used in the Kick-Six game in 2013 went for $12,600.
If another miracle happens against Alabama this year, the lure could go for five figures again. Hopkins is proud of his craftsmanship — but more proud of his winged pupil.
“Aurea… I’ve done all of her training from the day she was transferred over to the Education section,” Hopkins tells CBS 42. “From being a wild animal that really had no clue what we were asking it to do to flying in front of 90,000 people. So that’s been really special.”
Aurea’s training culminated with a new title last week: War Eagle VIII. She takes over for Nova, a male golden eagle who hasn’t flown since 2016 due to a heart condition. Auburn introduced Aurea as the school’s official War Eagle before last week’s game against Samford.
Just like the players, you could say Aurea has trained for Saturday since she arrived at AU. Just like the players, she practices almost every day. And just like the players, she’ll perform at the Iron Bowl with millions of people watching.