Practice Tour: Christian Russell

CHATHAM, Va. --- Throughout his prep career, North Carolina pledge Christian Russell has had to focus, start, and be a primary contributor at two positions – running back and linebacker. At Hargrave Military Academy this fall, he will focus solely at linebacker.

"It's been great, because I just get to go all out for just one position," said Russell, who now checks in at 6-foot-1, 263 pounds. "Focusing on one thing is better. I don't have to think ‘I have to remember I have to do this on offense and this on defense.' So I won't get confused as much."

Russell will start at middle linebacker in Hargrave's multiple defense.

"Right now, I'm impressed with him at linebacker," Hargrave head football coach Troy Davis said. "He's one hell of a player. I'm looking forward to coaching him up."

At Fayetteville (N.C.) Westover and Raeford (N.C.) Hoke County, Russell excelled at both running back and linebacker. Davis believes that linebacker, the position UNC is recruiting him for, is Russell's best fit at and beyond Hargrave.

"At linebacker, he has all the natural instincts and he reads plays real quick," Davis said. "Not only that, he's very physical at the point-of-attack. I really can't say enough – his feet are quick, he's strong. It just comes to him so natural at linebacker."

With that said, running back may not be completely out the picture. Davis said he could use Russell at tailback in goal line situations.

"I'm all about allowing all the kids to receive an opportunity to play," Davis said. "As the season goes on, I'll start playing [Russell] in some other positions to help the team."

Russell arrived at Hargrave Military Academy a week ago.

"It's crazy right here," Russell said. "I've got to get used to this stuff – this military stuff. So it's kind of crazy right now. We have to get up early, lining up in formation, saluting, we have to get to practice on time so that we're on time for formation, [and] we have to make sure we stay clean. So it's a big adjustment. Everything is going real smooth. I'm just ready to get into the real routine, because we're not on schedule yet because school hasn't started, yet."

Classes begin at Hargrave on Thursday. Russell's fall workload includes four classes, three of which are core classes.

"I'm just trying to work on my grades to get my GPA up and make that [test] score and make it [match up on the NCAA Clearinghouse sliding scale]," Russell said. "Once I get that score, I'll be out of here and headed to North Carolina."

Russell hopes he'll be ready to head to UNC in January. However, if needed, he could remain at Hargrave for the spring semester.

"Academically, we sat down and we have a plan for him," Davis said. "We just have to have Christian Russell coming on in and taking care of his core classes and his test score. He's going to have the option here to take both the SAT and ACT, whereas in the past he only took one."

Since his arrival last Monday, Hargrave has had three-a-day practices – much different than the one-a-day routine Russell is used to during high school.

"And it's like a long walk to the practice field," Russell said. "It's like a two-mile walk. Man, it's crazy."

Although he is listed at 262 pounds – a more realistic assessment than the 240 pounds he was listed at on the East-West All-Star roster in July – Russell looks to be in better physical shape than when he played in the East-West game.

"I feel like [Hargrave] is really going to help me out, because what I do out here, I'm going to do in college," Russell said. "It's more work and they're always pushing you to be the best. No matter how good you are already, they're going to push you and push you to make you go harder. It helps you get in shape and builds discipline and builds great character."

Since he arrived at Hargrave, Russell hasn't spoken to anyone from UNC's coaching staff, primarily because Hargrave players' phones were taken away from them and won't be given back for another couple of weeks – another adjustment he has had to make. He did have a conversation with Sam Pittman before moving into Hargrave.

"They have [Everett] Withers in at interim coach now and they're trying to turn a bad situation into a good situation," Russell said. "They're just trying to work everything out with what they have. They're trying to get a good coach to come in next year, from what I hear, so hopefully everything will work out."

Although his recruitment restarts, Russell fully plans to stick to his verbal commitment to UNC, which he made over a year ago.

"UNC is still my school," Russell said. "I'll listen to what other schools have to say, but UNC is still my home."

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