Nansemond-Suffolk junior running back Jack Russell was instrumental in getting the Saints to the VISAA Division II state championship game by scoring twice on runs against the Trinity Episcopal defense. Russell received 714 votes to become the Suffolk News-Herald’s Player of the Week.

Russell ‘best all-around athlete’ on NSA team

Published 8:35pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

No shot at the state championship could happen without a successful state semifinal, and junior wingback/linebacker Jack Russell helped ensure that for Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. He scored twice on crucial 12- and 14-yard runs, receiving 714 votes to become the Player of the Week.

Russell’s first touchdown came with 3:54 remaining in the first half to make it 14-0, a two-score ballgame, giving the Saints a cushion for the first time. With dogged determination, he dodged the Trinity Episcopal defense for a 14-yard scoring run at the beginning of the fourth quarter. This touchdown restored a two-score lead, 26-13.

“Definitely for running, it was one of my best games this season,” said Russell, who had 59 yards on five carries.

Saints head coach Lew Johnston explained the role that Russell and junior Matt Newhall share in the Wing-T offense.

“The wingback is basically the set-up guy, so to speak,” he said. “That’s the deception and the misdirection. Once we’ve got the defense looking to the fullback or the halfback, that’s when we come back with the wingback.”

Johnston described his criteria for the wingback position.

“The wingback in the Wing-T for us has to be our best all-around athlete,” he said. “He’s got to be able to block extremely well, he’s got to be able to catch the ball, and he’s got to be a good runner. So, when I go looking for wingbacks, I’m looking for our best all-around athlete, so I think that just typifies Jack Russell.”

Russell also had one solo and five assisted tackles as a linebacker.

Russell also plays lacrosse, which he has expressed interest in pursuing at the college level. Asking him to pick his favorite between the two sports may yield a different answer depending on when the question is asked, though.

“It goes both ways,” he said. “Right now, it’s football.”

Football began for Russell about 10 years ago.

“I started in Pop Warner when I was 6, I think,” Russell said. “I played Saints Pop Warner.”

His dad got him into the sport and coached him throughout his Pop Warner career up until he started playing school ball.

Earning a state championship has special significance to Russell because it would represent a shared experience with an NSA alumnus named Will Russell and his contemporaries. The Saints missed that chance this year, but Russell has another shot before he graduates.

“My brother was on the team before, so all the guys that I know that are older were all on the (2009) state championship (team),” he said.

In terms of older players on the team, Russell is now one of them, and with that upperclassman status has come a new responsibility.

“I usually, in the past couple years, have always had someone that I kind of looked up to, and now, I feel like I’m kind of on the top of the totem pole, I guess,” he said. “It is pressure, but I don’t know, I enjoy it. It’s nice being looked up to a little bit.”

His credentials for being a leader become clear as Coach Johnston describes his fortitude.

“I told him and his dad this the other day — I’ve been doing this the last 39 years, he is truly one of the toughest kids I have ever coached,” he said.

And despite being what Johnston describes as “basically injured all year,” it has not hampered his readiness.

“Always ready on game day,” Johnston said. “Just from that standpoint, he typifies what NSA Saints football is all about.”

Following are this week’s Suffolk News-Herald Player of the Week nominees:

  • Antonio Jefferson, senior wide receiver for Lakeland football — When few other things went right for the Lakeland offense, he shined on the biggest stage Lakeland has ever seen, catching a 17-yard touchdown pass for the Cavaliers’ only score and drawing multiple defensive pass interference penalties from a Lake Taylor defense scrambling to cover him. He finished with seven receptions for 56 yards.
  • Michael Piersawl, senior wide receiver for Lakeland football — He had an early interception that killed some of Lake Taylor’s momentum, and he also contributed to some of the rare offense that the Cavaliers enjoyed during their regional semifinal playoff game.
  • Michael Tyler Lepore, junior split end/defensive back for Nansemond-Suffolk football — He scored on an 18-yard touchdown reception and led the Saints with four catches for 57 yards. On defense, he also contributed two solo tackles and two pass defenses.
  • Matt Newhall, junior strong safety for Nansemond-Suffolk football — He snatched up a fumble and returned it 17 yards to set up an NSA score. He also had a solo tackle, two assists, and one key third-down pass defense.

Vote by 7 p.m. Wednesday by sending an email with the subject “Player of the Week” to sports@suffolknewsherald.com. You can also vote on our Facebook page and on the Suffolk News-Herald homepage. Next Sunday, we’ll feature the readers’ choice in a story on the sports page.

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