Ole Miss Rebel sophomore Linebacker Robert Russell was a wide-eyed freshman just 12 short months ago.
He was backing up All-American Patrick Willis so he naturally assumed he'd have time to prepare for his debut in SEC football.
As fate would have it, Willis was briefly injured and the defensive coaches turned to Robert, a true freshman, to hold down the MLB slot until Patrick returned to action.
Russell responded with a 10-tackle outing against Vanderbilt, which led the team, and also recovered a fumble.
When Willis returned, Robert resumed his role as a backup.
"It was a whirlwind when Patrick got hurt, but I was confident I could get the job done," said Russell, who has never lacked for confidence. "I think I showed I could perform if they needed me, but being a freshman I did not know all I needed to know."
Now, 12 months later, things are different.
"Now I know what is expected of players on this level. Last year at this time, I was feeling my way through everything," he stated. "I did OK, considering everything, but I think I will be a lot better this year due to that experience."
Russell believes there is a major difference in him now and him "back then" when he first reported as a Rebel.
"The biggest thing is that I know the defense so much better. I understand what I'm supposed to be doing now, so there is no hesitation," he continued. "At linebacker, or any position really, hesitation will take you out of a play. I think I will be able to execute better this year because my reaction time will be faster."
Robert will have some added duties this fall. He said his linebacking base will be expanded.
"I'm still going to be playing middle linebacker some but the coaches want me to learn all three positions. I'm on the outside right now," Robert said. "I'm excited about that challenge. It's all football to me. I've played linebacker my whole career and I don't think learning all the LB positions will be that difficult.
"It might take some time, but I'm willing to give it a try in order to get on the field more."
Playing behind Willis is something Russell has mixed feelings about. He enjoys learning from the best, but he is not fired up about being anyone's backup. A healthy, competitive attitude.
"It's a pleasure watching Patrick and seeing how he does things, but I want to play too," noted Robert. "I want to compete. I have the desire to start. I feel I'll get some playing time, so that's OK. I'm learning behind a vet and I'll be ready when my time comes."
Robert said he's changed his body in a year.
"I've dropped a lot of body fat and gained some muscle mass. I weigh 237 right now, which is about the same I weighed last year, but I'm more cut now," he smiled. "And I have gotten a lot stronger in the last 12 months. A lot stronger.
"I improved all three major lifts by a lot. I've worked hard. It will pay off."
Robert doesn't know exactly how he fits in for 2006, but he knows he'll be ready if his number is called.
"I'm just going to do everything the coaches tell me to do and get myself prepared for whatever they want. I'll make some playing time for myself and I'll be ready if any injuries at LB pop up," he closed.
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