When Ohio State landed their signing day class of 2005, the coaches, as all
coaches are wont to do, professed to be pleased. However, there was something of
deeper than normal sincerity in their statements. Mel Tucker, then the coach of
the defensive backs, was particularly emphatic. He went so far as to claim that
one relatively unknown and less highly recruited member of the class, Anderson Russell, was, “a steal.”
Are we talking about the same player? Russell, the player from Georgia who isn’t
even a defensive back? Russell, the young man who was less highly considered
than…well…dozens (if not hundreds) of other potential recruits? Russell, he of
the two other Division I-A scholarship offers – Duke and UConn?
Yes, assured Tucker, Russell was going to be all that and a bag of chips in a
few years. He would be a testament to the ability of the coaching staff to
uncover talent and mystify fans and recruiting gurus.
More than a few were skeptical. For many he was a ‘Plan B’ or even ‘Plan C, D,
E, or F’ type recruit.
Russell could have cared less about the doubting Thomas portion of Buckeyedom.
“I guess they are used to getting highly talented kids out of high school and I
wasn’t one of those kids so I guess I just made them have some doubt," he said.
"I didn’t really even know about it but it doesn’t bother me at all because I
felt like I could play and it didn’t really matter. High school doesn’t really
matter once you get here. It didn’t bother me at all.”
Fast forward two years and Russell is garnering more than his fair share of
attention. In a defensive backfield littered with more losses than the Kansas City Royals, the Buckeyes are in need of players who give effort and hustle.
Defense, Bear Bryant believed, is about effort as much as it is talent, and
given his coaching proficiency it would be difficult to argue.
The funny thing is, Russell’s nickname is "100 percent."
“Anderson is a really good player. What he may lack in technique he makes up for
in effort,” said senior safety Brandon Mitchell. “They call him 100 percent.
Everything he does is full speed at all times.”
Apparently Nate Salley and Donte Whitner tagged the young player this in 2005,
and it has stuck.
Last year Russell “had no clue,” according to Mitchell. “He had never played
defensive back before. He came in playing from running back, but he has made a
lot of progress though just from him being around us.”
Teammate Malcolm Jenkins also spoke highly of Russell, saying, “He’s doing real
well. From spring until now, he’s done nothing but get better. He’s a very
explosive person. You can always find him around the ball. He has a knack for
the ball. He’s still learning the defense but he’s doing real good and he’s
progressing real well.”
In the mind of Mitchell, part of the reason for the dramatic improvement has
been other defensive players lending a helping hand.
“We placed a little more emphasis over the winter of helping him out," Mitchell
said. "Now he is definitely one of the guys.”
One of the guys or not, the problem for Russell and the rest of the Ohio State
secondary is a brutal September schedule. It includes two teams that finished in
the top three in the nation last year as well as the Iowa Hawkeyes. Toss in a
scrappy Northern Illinois and chip-on-their-shoulder Cincinnati, many of whose
players really wanted to be at Ohio State, and you have a potential powder keg
for a young secondary.
Russell isn’t intimidated.
“I feel like that we as a secondary , we feel like this year we have a lot of
talent back there and we could end up being just as good as those guys were last
year if not better," he said. "We just have a lot of work to do and it will come
with experience because none of us has played with the exception of Malcolm
(Jenkins). We’re going to get better and better each week and experience is just
going to come we’re going to keep getting better.”
The issue is, will they learn in time to preserve the national title hopes for
the rest of their teammates?
“We don’t have that time to learn at leisure,” he admitted. “I mean we’re going
to make our mistakes during camp but we’re going to learn from them. We’re going
to be ready to go. We’re going to be ready to play, and we’re going to be making
plays. I’m not worried about us being young. We’re not worried about it at all.”
Interestingly, neither are Russell’s teammates.
Said Jay Richardson, “I check out Anderson all the time. He is a good player,
really explosive. He is a good natural football player, an explosive, fast kid,
and that is what you need at defensive back. He’ll be good.”
Even defensive coordinator Jim Heacock might be described as cautiously
optimistic: “What we saw last year as he redshirted and of course in the spring,
he has really come a long way,” said Heacock. “He is obviously a guy who is
competing for a starting spot. He certainly is in that category. He is a tough
kid. He is aggressive and a good student of the game. We just have to wait and
see now who comes out on top, but he certainly is one of the guys who has the
potential – very strong potential – to start for us.”
Then Heacock echoed the comments of his players, “He has good acceleration and
explosion. He covers ground and gets there quick.”
So what will be the outcome? Who is going to come out on top in this winner take
all scrum for starting position?
Heacock asserts, “Right now we have 6-8 defensive backs who could potentially
start for us. Whoever has the best next week or so will move up. If there are
two guys who are equal at a position then we will sub them (for one another).”
Whether or not he starts or not in 2006, Russell is turning out to be exactly as
advertised; a real steal who right now looks like he could be the real deal for