Ex-Gopher Gary Russell Prepares for NFL Draft

Former Minnesota running back Gary Russell is preparing for the NFL Draft after being ruled ineligible last season. Russell rushed 164 times for 1,045 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and 18 rushing touchdowns in 2005. He struggled in the 40-yard dash at the recent NFL combine in Indianapolis and will have to work hard to get back on the draft radar. Russell talked to the media before his workout.

Gary Russell was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week as he set career highs in rushing attempts (28), yards (188) and touchdowns (3) to lead Minnesota to a road victory at Indiana for the first time since 1985 and bowl eligibility for the fourth straight season. With Big Ten rushing leader Laurence Maroney slowed by an ankle injury, Russell stepped up with his best effort of his college career.

 

Russell appeared in eight games as a freshman as he finished with 144 yards on 24 carries with a long of 15 yards.

 

Russell was a 2004 graduate of Walnut Ridge (OH) High and was named to the SuperPrep Midwest Team. He was an all-state selection, was a three-time all-city and all-conference performer and a two-time all-county and all-area choice. Russell gained 2,136 yards and scored 29 touchdowns his senior season after rushing for 1,800 yards and 29 scores his junior season. He played in the North-South All-Star Game and also lettered in wrestling and basketball.

 

The following is a transcript of his media interview at the NFL combine.

 

Long time you've had to wait, huh?
"
Yeah, a year."

What happened academically at Minnesota?
"
After the bowl game, I was declared ineligible. We appealed to the school two or three times and they said no. I went to a junior college in Minnesota
called Inver Hills, took 8 credits there, appealed
again after that, they said no again. Came back home
and tried to go to Columbus state, but the classes at
Columbus State wouldn't transfer for a year so I
decided the best thing was to move on."

How did it feel to squander a chance to be the main guy, considering Maroney left?
"It was disappointing. It was disappointing I let my teammates down. We'd practiced all summer. But by the same token I couldn't let it get me down. I had to move on."

What was your major?
"
African-American studies."

What's been the reaction by NFL teams of you missing a year?
"
They understand what I'm telling them. They're very familiar with that process."

Have you stayed in touch with Maroney?
"
Yeah. I talked to him right before I came here."

You Maroney and Marion Barber all have same punishing
running style where you dip your shoulder rather than
going out of bounds. Is that from Payton drill?
"
Yeah, we've got that sideline drill. We got in trouble the last time I did that (run out of bounds)."

Have you had weight issues?
"I gained some weight when I was in Minnesota. I worked out in Ohio and got a lot of weight back off me and then went down to Cincinnati to work out for the combine."

Do you think the year off will hurt you in the NFL's eyes?
"
They question my weight because I was 215 at Minnesota and now I'm 225. At an all-star game last week, they wanted to see me move and I did that pretty well."

If you'd stayed in school, where do you think you would have fit in the draft picture?
"
I think I'd be in the top 3-4 running backs. Obviously, they brought me here for a reason and I
didn't play for a year."

What about your draft picture now?
"
I'm not sure. But I know I'm lower than that."

What happened academically?
"Me just being lazy. I was the first one in my family to go to school so I didn't have the guidance of
people telling me I'd have all this extra time."

When it became clear it was a problem, was it too late?
"
It was a problem and then it was too late. The teachers didn't tell me, 'You're going to fail the
classes.' When I failed I just looked at the paper like, 'Oh.' I had a class with two classes. (One was a prerequisite for another and when flunked one, he couldn't take other)."

What's your running style, particularly at the goal line?
"
I'm just a downhill runner. When you're at the goal line you can't run sideline to sideline."

With Dillon retiring, what are your thoughts on possibly reuniting with Maroney in New England?
"
I would be glad to have that two-headed monster again."

With Barber and Maroney and you at the same school, how competitive was it?
"
It was real competitive. When I got up there, one of the reporters in Minnesota said I was coming up there to take his job. They thought I said that, so a lot of times they'd joke with me about that. But it was real competitive."

What did you learn from Barber and Maroney and which one are you more like?
"I learned a lot from them. Marion is more of a downhill runner. He's more hard-nosed. Laurence is more elusive. I think I'm more like Marion. I'm more of a downhill runner. I'm not going to let you hit me. I'm going to hit you first."

But you have speed, too?
"
I haven't really showed speed like that yet, but once I get on the field I can show it."

Your expectations in the 40?
"
I'm not sure. Hopefully, 4.4 or 4.5."

What's the ceiling on when you can be drafted considering you missed a year?
"
I think as long as I do my drills good and they see the film when I played, hopefully my stock will rise."

Your shape now?
"
I think I'm in better shape than I was in Minnesota. My weight is 225. At Minnesota, it was 215."

Do you blame yourself for grade problems?
"
Oh yeah. It's all my fault. It wasn't anybody's fault. It was my responsibility to go to class. I just wish I would have grown up. I was immature then. Now it's a different maturity level."

Were you kicking yourself last year?
"
At first, it wasn't that bad. Then I started thinking about it thinking that should be me (on field). But I've moved on from there."

Was watching Minnesota tough?
"
I watched all their games. I'm a fan of the game anyway."

Another question about the weight
"
I was working out trying to get weight off. I was probably up to 250, right after I got home from
Minnesota. Probably in April."

Because you played with NFL players, are there any doubts you can play in the NFL?
"I have no doubts in my mind about that."

And not just play, but excel?
"
I think I can excel in the league."

Have you thought about the money you've lost because of academics?
"
It's run across my mind a couple times but I feel I can make my stock rise by coming here."

Are teams grilling me about academics?
"
Not necessarily. I told them the situation. I told them it was my fault. That's all they wanted to know."

Question about laziness regarding academics not being as bad as legal problems?
"
A lot of teams asked me what happened, like, 'Was that it? Were there any other reasons.' I told them it was academics and they understand that. I was going to class periodically and then it got
worse when I stopped going to class at all. Once I found out I wasn't going to pass, I didn't go. I was eligible until that fall."

Football-wise, what feedback are you getting from scouts?
"
Everybody loves my game. The biggest question with that was my weight because they knew I gained some weight. I was 236 two weeks ago at the all-star game."

What did you do to lose weight?
"
I wore a Sonus suit, like a plastic bag suit and I've been watching my diet. A lot of losing weight is diet. From eating McDonald's and Wendy's every day to eating chicken with no skin."

Are the 10 pounds gained from college muscle?
"
Yeah."

What's your reaction on coaching change at Minnesota?
"
I don't really have a reaction. I'm sad coach browning and coach mason are out of a job. I don't know the new coaches. I haven't talked to them. So I don't know how the guys are taking it."

Where do you expect to go in the draft?
"
I'm not sure at all. As long as my stock keeps rising."

How many times at home did people say, `What happened?'
"
I don't go out too much ... I really keep to myself when I'm off the field. I stay in the house or go camping or something."

How much pressure is on you this weekend?
"
I don't ever think of pressure being all on my back or anything like that. I usually take it pretty good. You have to have a clear mind so you don't get something stress you out so much."

On comparison with Clarett?
"
A lot of people have joked with me and said just don't run what he ran. I know I'm not going to do that."

Then he bailed on the drills.
"
To me, the money they offered him and the stuff he did at the combine when he still got offered that much money, I don't know what he didn't take it for."


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