STATESBORO, Ga. (WSAV) — Georgia Southern’s mascot, Freedom, is getting his own NIL deal for his birthday after 17 years of flying over Paulson stadium.

“No one silences an eagle,” said Steve Hein, executive director of GSU’s wildlife center.

This is especially true because we’re so close to his 20th birthday in January. Kicking off the celebrations early this homecoming weekend will be Southern Exchange, the store selling all things GSU released a new line featuring the eagle.

“Steve and his Scout and Freedom are all very iconic around Statesboro, so it was pretty easy to do,” said William Martin, the owner of Southern Exchange.

Steve Hein, Freedom’s handler for all 17 years, rides around Statesboro with Freedom in his vintage International Scout vehicle which is featured in their best-selling t-shirt.

“We hope he’s going to be here for a great many years,” said Hein. “I hope I continue to get to be his plus-one.”

Hein says wild eagles have a life expectancy of about a year because of their tough lives as predators. In captivity, he’s seen them live anywhere from 16 to 38 years. Freedom lives in the GSU Wildlife Center because of his broken beak. He wouldn’t survive without them.

Since Freedom and Hein have known each other so long, even describing their relationship almost like an old married couple, News 3 asked if he could translate Freedom’s birthday wishes.

“You know if he were to say anything I think he would go, ‘Go southern, let’s win the homecoming game.’ I think that’s what he’s thinking. Is that right? Can you show me your wings? Ok yeah, that’s undoubtedly what he’s thinking.”

Hein says he’ll be monitoring the weather to see that it stays sunny with light wind so that Freedom can fly over Paulson Stadium for the homecoming game.