Getting Back On The Field

Ohio State's thrashing of conference foe Iowa in week five last season was a cause for celebration across the Buckeye Nation, but not all were overjoyed. Find out how that night changed Anderson Russell's path at OSU and where he stands now.

It was the day after Ohio State's 38-17 thrashing of Iowa, and the Buckeyes were feeling good. After navigating a treacherous September schedule that saw them achieve night road victories against Texas and Iowa as well as a conference opener against Penn State, OSU was sitting pretty at 5-0 facing smooth sailing for the next six games.

But not everyone shared that same sense of joy, however. Standing in front of the stairs in his apartment, redshirt freshman Anderson Russell did the only thing he could do at that moment.

He cried.

"I hadn't cried about anything that bad in my life," he said.

The free safety, who had worked his way into the starting lineup for the Buckeyes, could not climb his own stairs. One night before, Russell had suffered a torn ACL while playing on a special teams unit.

Racing down the field to cover a kickoff, Russell said he felt his leg "do something funny" he had never felt before. Instantly he knew something was wrong and he tried to get out of the play, but not before a defender drilled him, knocking him to the ground.

He was helped off the field by linebacker Curtis Terry and two trainers. He tried to put weight on the injured leg one time, couldn't, and resumed hopping on one leg.

Russell then flew out that night with the team. The next day he was in his apartment, staring at the steps and talking to his parents on the phone. Russell's father, Kevin, had suffered the same injury at the same point of his college career at Tennessee State – in the same month of his redshirt sophomore season, even – and he was giving his son some advice.

"He was talking to me about it and telling me to keep my head up and that it's not the end of the world," Russell said.

Thus began the recovery of Russell, now penciled in as OSU's starting free safety for 2007. It's been a long process to get clearance from the coaching staff to result full-contact drills, but one that was actually completed around the time spring football began.

Still, the coaching staff held him out of drills as a precautionary measure. It made for a self-described "frustrating" spring, but one that helped him in his development as a player.

"All I was able to do for like eight or nine months was just sit around," he said. "I had to learn a lot because that was all I could do. I've definitely become a better mental player."

Russell's injury forced the Buckeyes to shuffle their defensive lineup. Senior strong safety Brandon Mitchell was shifted over to Russell's vacated spot, and into Mitchell's place stepped sophomore Jamario O'Neal.

"I was not nervous at all," O'Neal said. "I think I was prepared. I was like, ‘OK, let's go. Time to show what you've got.' "

Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said the loss of Russell was "devastating."

"We thought he was really going to be an outstanding player for us," Heacock said. "We were excited about him."

Now, however, O'Neal has been sent back to the strong safety position, where he is listed as the primary backup to sophomore Kurt Coleman.

Russell said the movement among the safeties has not caused any friction among his teammates.

"We're actually probably one of the closest groups of people on the team, the DBs are," he said. "A lot of us came in together and I think that has a lot to do with it. We're just a close bunch of guys."

Now just a scar on his knee and a fading memory, Russel's ACL injury marked the only time he has severely injured himself. The next serious injury he has suffered came when, as a kindergartner, he had to get stitches.

Fully healed, the coaching staff is expecting big things out of him now.

"He hasn't missed a beat," Heacock said. "A lot of times when you come off a major knee injury and the surgery, it takes a little while to get your confidence back. But he never seemed to miss a beat there, which is exciting."

While he said he was not sure if the coaching staff would be placing him on the kick coverage units this season, his body language seemed to indicate that he hopes they will not. He is in the mix to return kicks, however.

"I'll do whatever for the team," he said. "I'm not worried about it just because that's when it happened."

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