Russell ready to fill Willis' shoes

In three games Robert Russell has gone from not playing against Memphis to playing against Vanderbilt to starting against Wyoming.

A lot of times you'll hear about a player having big shoes to fill. That could be the case after a player graduates or a player leaves a team.

In the case of Ole Miss true freshman linebacker Robert Russell, it comes under the heading of stepping in for an injured starter. Actually not only a starter but one of the Rebels' best players on that side of the ball in junior Patrick Willis.

But Russell, only in his third game as a college player, gets the starting nod against Wyoming Saturday night. He says he's as ready as he can be and has tried to follow Willis' lead in every way.

"I've just tried to prepare myself like Patrick would, or even better," said the 6-foot, 230-pounder who had nine solo tackles, one assist, and one fumble recovery in the Vanderbilt game but didn't play in the season opener at Memphis. "I know that I will get help from my teammates and coaches during this time. Coach (Orgeron) told me I had to watch more film in all my extra free time to get ready for Wyoming."

Russell said his mindset is a bit different knowing he has gone from not playing in game one to playing in game two to starting in game three.

"But I still try to prepare the same way," said Russell, a first-team all-state player in Louisiana last season as a senior at L.B. Landry High School. "You still have to be prepared for anything. Patrick and the coaches have helped me. But they helped me last week getting ready for that game. So every week it's important to be prepared."

Willis, with a broken middle finger and an MCL knee strain, began helping Russell get ready for Wyoming as soon as they left Nashville.

"He sat right across from me on the bus ride home," Russell said. "He said he was going to help me through this and to help me prepare just like he would and not let me fall behind. He was going to help me learn and I appreciated that."

Russell said there are some things a player can only learn in a game, and he learned some things at Vandy.

"I learned the speed of the game is much faster," he said. "I learned that I can keep up with the speed. I learned that you have to be prepared for anything at anytime. You can't slack up. And you have to know all your stuff."

Russell says he has the confidence in himself and in his game to get the job done.

"I've always been confident in anything I do," he said. "With the help of God, and also my family backing me up, I feel I can do anything."

It hasn't been an easy time lately for Russell and his family. They are from New Orleans, and his first few weeks of college have been anything but routine.

"It's still on my mind everyday," Russell said of the devastation of his home area and the trials and tribulations his family had to go through. "I'm walking to class, it's on my mind. I'm in class, it's on my mind. I'm on the field, it's on my mind. It's helped me put everything in perspective. I know I have to do what I have to do when I have to do it."

His family is in north Louisiana currently. They are trying to get their lives back in order. They were able to watch Robert on TV while he and his teammates played Vandy.

Russell knows Willis' shoes are big ones to fill, but he looks forward to stepping in and filling them to the best of his ability Saturday against the Cowboys.

"I admit they are big shoes," Russell said. "But I feel like I'm ready to take on anything at anytime now. With the help of my coaches and teammates, I feel like I can do anything."

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