Tim Russell, A Man For All UI Seasons

Meet the Fighting Illini's Renaissance Man. Tim Russell has one of the most unusual combinations of talents one can imagine on a football team. A high school quarterback, he walked on to the Illinois team to play receiver. He is now the holder on place kicks. He is also the backup long snapper. And he's an Engineering student to boot.

Perhaps no one is as multifaceted as James Franco, the actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, author, painter, performance artist and professor at New York University. But Illinois has a football player who has a similar diversity of talents.

Tim Russell walked onto the Illini football team out of St. Charles. He admits his contributions to the team are unique.

"Yeah, they are. I've been doing work at holder, and since the spring I've been long-snapping."

He describes the chain of events that led him to his present status.

"Growing up, the position I always played was quarterback. Before my freshman year here, I moved to receiver. The last two years, I haven't seen the field much, so I figured I'd see what other talents I had. I started working on long-snapping midway through last season, and then Coach (Ron) Zook gave me the opportunity to be a holder in the spring."

The Illini needed a holder for placements, and Russell found himself the right man at the right time.

"Our last holder Anthony Santella graduated. Derek (Dimke) asked me to hold, and Zook approved. So we've been working on holds since the spring."

At first, the 6'-6", 220 pounder struggled due to his long arms. But he was able to adapt.

"It was at the beginning, but we worked countless hours over the summer doing it. We really got in a good rhythm. I figured out where I needed to put my long arms and what the appropriate distances were away from the ball."

He had no background for the job.

"I never did any holding in high school. One of our receivers was the holder. But I figured if I could make the transition from quarterback to receiver, I might as well hold because I can catch the ball real well."

As for long snapping, Russell's quarterback background serves him well.

"Coach (Paul) Petrino said it's like throwing the ball between your legs."

There was no question Russell would attend his home state school.

"I always wanted to go to Illinois. My dad and my uncles went here. I got accepted for Engineering, so I was coming here anyway. Family friends suggested that I send a tape down and see what happens. Nothing bad could come out of it. So I sent it down, met with coaches, and they invited me down for summer ball."

Engineering and football are a tough combination. Russell says Illini personnel help him cope with the intense demands of both.

"The academic support staff is really helpful. They know that the academic struggle at the school is tremendous. I've got to budget my time really well and spend just as many hours working on homework as on football. It balances out pretty well."

He has changed his academic focus since arriving at Illinois.

"I was in Mechanical, but I just transferred into Agricultural and Biological Engineering."

There has been little time to practice his receiving, but he is still available should the need arise. If nothing else, he enjoys an opportunity to help in practice.

"Receiving is going really well. I've been getting the offense pretty well since I've been here two seasons now with Petrino's offense. I've got a good feel for everything.

"Lately, I've been doing a lot of focus on long-snapping and holding with the kickoff unit a lot. But I know I enjoy the position, and Petrino will let me go in when I want to get reps because he knows I know what I'm doing out there. It's good to give some of the guys a break."

Perhaps Illini coaches will find other uses for Russell as well. Regardless, he is performing an important task on the 2011 team, and he has two more years after that to expand his role.

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