“Attending Michigan was his dream.” That according to Fred Russell’s mother, Twana Spencer, in today’s DesMoines Register. Russell was a first team All-State selection in both his junior and senior campaigns. He set state records for touchdowns in a season (with 44 his senior year), and touchdowns in a career (with 85). He also set school records at Romulus for yards in a season (with 2,473 his senior year) and yards in a career (with 5,087). His productivity caught the attention of the Michigan coaching staff and he was one of the first kids offered the opportunity to be a part of the 1999 incoming freshman class. He happily accepted the chance to fulfill his childhood dream and was well on his way to donning the maize and blue. Unfortunately for Michigan, circumstances prevented the high school phenom from lacing up his cleats in Ann Arbor.
There may have been a little disappointment about not becoming a Wolverine, but Russell is thrilled with his choice to become a Hawkeye. He experienced great success last year running for 1264 yards on 220 attempts and scored 9 touchdowns. That said, none of that success came at Michigan’s expense. The Wolverines bottled up the Iowa star, holding him to only 28 yards on 20 carries last year. The Hawkeyes won the game, but Fred’s performance in that contest has bothered him a little according to his mom in today’s article. “The important thing about last year was that Iowa won the game, but stuck in the back of Fred's mind is that they shut down some of his runs,” Spencer said. “That, I think, is going to be the challenge for him Saturday.”
While his mom may think that Fred has a little something to prove versus the Wolverines this weekend, Fred didn’t convey those sentiments to me. He did, however, articulate an answer that could have been taught at the Lloyd Carr School of player interviews. “We look forward to EVERY game in the Big Ten,” Russell said. “I’m not pointing to this more than any of the others.”
Much of the rest of the on-the-record portion of our conversation was focused on Iowa’s strength and conditioning program. Russell absolutely swears by the system implemented by 1999 Big Ten Strength Coach of the year, Chris Doyle. Doyle’s regimen has become nationally renowned and has had a profound effect on the Hawkeye football player. It has become common to see Iowa players turn in excellent numbers at the annual NFL combine, especially in the vertical jump. Over the past few years TE Dallas Clark leaped 37.5 inches, offensive guard Eric Steinbach had a vertical of 36 inches and WR Kevin Kapser jumped 44 inches. Further testament to their program is the fact that Iowa had 3 former walk-ons drafted in the first five rounds of last year’s draft. They are thought to be the first school ever to do that.
A chance to play in the NFL is a lifelong dream of Russell’s and he just may opt to chase that dream after this season. In the meantime he has a battle with the Wolverines scheduled for Saturday.
For those that aren’t familiar with your commitment to Michigan and how you eventually matriculated to Iowa, can you take us through how that whole scenario developed?
"Well, I committed and signed a letter of intent with Michigan but then I found out that I wouldn’t qualify with my test score. I ended up being a partial qualifier. Most universities take partial qualifiers but U of M had a higher academic standard and they don’t take them. Coach Carr recommended that I go to a Prep school out in Connecticut (Milford Prep). Coach Ferentz and his staff came out to the school to recruit another kid (First Team All Big Ten Linebacker Niko Koutouvides Purdue) and they saw me on film and asked Coach could they speak to me. My coach told them that I was committed to Michigan and that I was supposed to go back after I passed the test, which I passed. He told them that he would see what I had to say about it. I decided to take the visit because I never took a visit outside of Michigan. When I went there they were telling me that I could come here in January. Michigan didn’t want me to come in January. They wanted me to come in August. I wanted to hurry up and get started in college and get on with the rest of my life. I really thought hard about waiting, but I just decided that it was time for the next process in my life and I chose Iowa."
Did you ever even get a chance to work out in Ann Arbor?
"I worked out at Michigan that summer in June, but the test scores came back at the end of June and that’s when I stopped."
Well, you’ve mentioned how happy you are at Iowa so it appears things worked out for the best. You certainly have gotten a lot bigger during your college years. Tell me a little about the S&C program there.
"I think we have one of the best strength and conditioning programs in the country. A lot of our guys go to the NFL combine and test really well. When guys at other schools get ready for the combine, they go to work out with people in Miami or Phoenix and places like that. Our guys stay with our strength coach. He gets us ready. He doesn’t have to do that, but he likes to do it for us. Like I said, our guys test real well. One of our players broke the record in the change of direction drill a few years back."
Without going into too much detail, can you get a little more specific about what the philosophy of the program is and if you’ve noticed any difference between what you guys do and what took place at Michigan when you were there?
"We do plyometrics and a lot of weird stuff that you just wouldn’t believe. We also do a lot with free weights…squats and stuff like that. Part of what I noticed at Michigan is they use a lot of machines. Our strength coach doesn’t believe in using machines too much. He’s a straight rack guy. He says that squatting without the machines works all of your joints out. "
Why do you think you guys do so well at the combine?
"When we first get here we really work on change of direction, vertical, 10-yard dash, 40-yard dash, and all of the other drills that you see at the combine. He starts getting us prepared from day 1. So when it’s time for us to leave, we’ve had experience with the combine tests for four years. Some guys just start to work on that stuff when they’re getting ready for the combine, but we get a lot of experience with it all the way through college. I ran for the scouts and ended up putting up like the fastest time for our runningbacks. I ran like a 4.4 flat. Bob (Sanders) had like a 4.3, which was the fastest time in the senior class."
What are your plans for next year? Are you looking to head to the NFL?
"I’m listed as senior but I can apply for a medical redshirt and it’s like 95% that it would go through if I choose to do it. I’m waiting until after the season to decide what I’m going to do because I graduate next May. I major in African American studies with a minor in Political Science. It really depends on how the season goes. If I have a lot better year than I did last year then I’ll probably leave."
It’s great to see things work out for Fred. His work and dedication will only bring him continued success. Lets just hope that, once again, it doesn’t come at the Wolverines expense!