Ouachita lineman approaching every day one snap at a time
ARKADELPHIA, Ark. – Going into his senior year at Charleston High School, Michael Russell needed to make a change. His family had moved to northeast Arkansas when he was entering the eighth grade. Russell fell in love with the school the minute he stepped foot on the campus, but something was missing for it to be a perfect fit. That something was football.
Russell approached the head coach and announced he wanted to play football. The coach's response? Well, when a 6'3", 230 pound kid tells you he wants to play football, you say yes. Russell showed up the next day for a team workout, where Coach Doug Loughridge put his decision to the test.
"Coach Loughridge wanted to do a gut check," Russell said. "He said he wanted m there but it sure didn't feel like it. We started with lunges down the field with a weight over our head. I made it to the 25 yard line and everyone else was already in the other end zone.By the time I'd get to the end of one drill, they were finishing up the next one and moving on. But I didn't quit. We started at around 2:00 in the afternoon and I didn't finish until 6:00. The next day I came back."
Russell said Coach Loughridge looked surprised to see him. But Russell had made a commitment to the coach and most importantly, to himself, that he was not going to quit. It was a commitment that had less to do with playing a game and more to do about Russell's desire to change his life.
"I didn't want to go back to where I was the day before or the years past."
The senior 6'4", 300-pound offensive tackle talked about how the change in his life after football was as different as night and day. Russell said the decision to play the game he now loves was a mental, physical and, most importantly, a spiritual transformation in a matter of six months.
The work ethic he developed in that short time brought him to Ouachita. Offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Brett Shockley wasn't just impressed with Russell's physical size, but also the size of his heart. Russell was immediately drawn to the importance of family and accountability the Tigers coaching staff projected.
"Coach Knight told me that it wasn't enough for me to become a good football player. I also needed to learn how to become a man, and take responsibility for myself as a man. Once he said that, I knew I wanted to be a Tiger."
What Russell has done since coming to Ouachita has been nothing short of amazing. Russell has played on every single offensive snap since his sophomore year and named first team all-conference. While he's aware that the leaps he's made since being a 230-pound high school senior aren't ordinary, Russell is not satisfied.
"The thing is, I want to be better than I was yesterday. Every single day I leave practice, I want to be better than I was the day before. When I leave class, I want to be smarter than I was the day before. When I lay my head down at night, if I don't feel like I've accomplished those things, I don't feel good about that day."
Russell added, "I'm not special. Anyone can do what I do. Some people think I'm good because of my size, but there are a lot of big people that can't play football. It's about how hard you work on every single rep."
That attitude and commitment to get better on every single play is what defines Russell as a player, a leader and a young man. He's committed to keeping that promise he made to himself and to everyone around him that he would not quit.