But this year Hillsboro has another first-rate prospect with none of the classroom baggage that burdened Henry and every bit as much potential. Chris Russell is a 6-3, 188-pound cover corner with an abundance of athletic ability and a solid 2.7 core grade point average. Furthermore, Russell took his ACT last month and is awaiting what is expected to be favorable results.
"He's top notch," said Hillsboro head coach Ronald Aydelott, a 20-year coaching veteran who has overseen the Burros reversal of fortunes since 1994. "He's a top-notch kid. He's got a great family. He's a class kid and he does everything you ask him to do. He's a good student, a good basketball player and he works hard in the weight room."
A starter at corner for Hillsboro since his freshman year, Russell is a now a seasoned veteran with high-minded aspirations entering his senior campaign. Last year he helped lead the Burros to a 14-1 record and a Class 4A state final berth against Maryville. Hillsboro lost that title tilt by a touchdown thus barely missing a perfect season.
Russell recorded 32 tackles as a junior along with four interceptions, one which he returned for a touchdown. He also broke up 25 passes and recovered a fumble despite missing four games with a separated shoulder.
"He had a great year for us last year," said Aydelott. "He did miss four games with a separated shoulder. He was injured in the second round of the playoffs in the first series and came back in the third round with his shoulder basically tied down to his side."
Originally, Russell sustained the shoulder injury in the first series of the season opener and didn't return until game three of the 2001 slate. He played both ways for the rest of the season despite suffering severe limitations due to the injury.
Russell also played split end and caught seven passes for two touchdowns for a Hillsboro team that rarely threw the ball.
"He had a great year as a receiver, but we only threw the ball 90 times all year," said Aydelott. "He could have posted some big numbers if we had thrown the ball more than six times a game."
Russell went right into basketball from football and was the Burros' leading scorer with 15 points a game. His decision to play basketball postponed shoulder surgery until this spring. He is now rehabilitating after a successful procedure and is expected to be cleared for full duty next month.
"He had surgery this spring and the rehab is going great," said Aydelott. "He'll be ready to go in June."
Aydelott said Russell has improved his physical play in the last couple of seasons and has become a punishing tackler. He is also a superb athlete who has a 36-inch vertical leap and good strength. While the bum shoulder has prevented Russell from working out with heavy weight, he did record lifts of 240 in the bench, a 405 parallel, 240 clean and 455 dead lift last summer.
He's a big athletic kid," said Aydelott. "He has a 36-inch vertical jump and 4.4 speed. He has the tangibles. He can run a 4.4 repetitively. I think if he ran track he could run a sub 4.4."
With his height and leaping ability, Russell has the tangibles to match up with taller receivers without giving away a thing. Aydelott also believes he can play a cover corner in the SEC where 6-3 DBs are a rare breed.
"I'll put it this way: I've been sworn to secrecy, but a guy who is recruiting him for another SEC school out of state has already said they are going to offer him," Aydelott explained. "The coach just doesn't want to let it out at this time. I'd say: ‘yes' (he can play cornerback) and another school says yes and they want him as a defensive back. That's what most people want him as, a cover corner. He just jumps so well and he's so tall. He just has all the things that you want."
Russell is still considering football camps to attend this summer but Florida and Ole Miss appear to be good bets. He is also considering Tennessee along with MTSU and others at this point.
"I've had every SEC school in both divisions at least in contact and most have been by to visit," said Aydelott. "I don't know what Tennessee's interest is, but they've been by here. He's been offered by more than one SEC school at this point. I can say that much."
Aydelott isn't hesitant to say Russell is the best all-around defensive back prospect he has had the pleasure of coaching during two decades in the profession.
"We've had kids who run as fast," he said. "We've had kids as strong. We've probably had kids that catch as well at split end. But size wise and being the kind of person he is, doing the things you ask him to do, he's the best. I've never had a kid start as a freshman, not at that position. He's phenomenal. He's the best secondary kid we've had all the way through."
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