Ahead of the Class

West Virginia quarterback commitment Charlie Russell has a great understanding of the game that puts him above any other quarterback that Morgantown High School head coach John Bowers has been associated with.

"He's obviously a tremendous athletic talent, but what sets him apart is his understanding of the game," Bowers told BlueGoldNews.com. "His ability to throw the football is what a lot of people focus on, but he has a great ability to manage a game. He's 28-0 as a starter, and you can't get much better than that."

Russell's understanding of defenses and ability to read them allow him to check off and call his own plays – something that's rarely, if ever, seen at the high school level. His ability to know the correct play to run against the varied defenses that have been thrown against the Mohigans the past three years, no matter what the situation.

"As a coaching staff, we feel confident and comfortable about each play going through his hands," Bowers said. "We often call two plays in the huddle and let him choose, but his also has the ability to check us out of bad plays and put us into good ones. And almost always, he gets you into a play that gets you some positive yardage."

It didn't take the Morgantown coaching staff long to recognize the talent they had in Russell. He was the first freshman in the history of the program to move up and play for the varsity, and that promotion wasn't in name only. Russell ended up sharing the quarterbacking duties during the latter part of the season, and ended up tossing a 50-yard touchdown pass that secured a Mohigan win over cross-town rival University in the MoHawk bowl.

"It was just a situation where he was a varsity caliber player playing on the j.v.," Bowers recalled. "He threw a 50-yard TD pass on his first attempt, so it was clear he was ready to play. He is as advanced a player as we have ever had, and he is rare in his ability to understand the game and pick the right play."

With so much experience under his belt, there isn't much that fazes Russell. If playing (and excelling), as a freshman against juniors and seniors doesn't rattle you, then there's probably nothing on the high school scene that will knock you off-kilter.

" "He's cool as a cucumber," said Bowers when asked to describe his star's on-field demeanor. "Not too many things get him fired up. He stays on a pretty even keel. He does get excited about playing, but he keeps it all under control. He takes the good with the bad, and as a quarterback, where you will have good and bad times, that's very important. He's gifted physically, but also blessed with that ability to stay on track."

Bowers has also heard many of the comments suggesting that Russell is "too slow" or "not suited to West Virginia's offense". He quickly dispels any notion that the rising senior isn't a good fit for the WVU attack.

"He might need to improve his foot speed a little, but he has wonderful feet," said bowers, as he explained the difference between straight-line speed and mobility in the pocket. "His drops are impeccable, and his rollouts are very good. Readjusting in the pocket is one of his strengths, and you don't get that on 40-yard dash. His presence in the pocket, his ability to evade and reset and throw a strike – there's no clock measurement for that kind of thing. And he is just exceptional at it."

While many in Mountaineer Nation knew about Russell, the attention he receives this year will certainly be heightened, at least within the borders of the state, since his commitment to West Virginia. In one way, the early commitment did lessen the pressure on him, because he won't be fielding nearly as many recruiting calls, and won't be making any official visits or camp trips other than to WVU. However, in another way, the pressure will probably be ratcheted up, as thousands of WVU fans will add their scrutiny to his play each Friday night. Although he knows that sort of examination is coming, Bowers believes his signalcaller is well equipped to handle it.

"I think he wanted to commit early so he could focus on his senior season, and that tells you what kind of a kid he is. He's the kind of kid you want to play quarterback for you," Bowers explained. "He didn't want to have to go through the whole recruiting process, although he handled it all like he had been through it before. Like a lot of kids, he certainly liked the attention, but to be honest I think it kind of got on his nerves a little bit. There will be an "all eyes on him" kind of thing going on, but I think he made a lot of fans statewide too. I don't think he'll have any trouble dealing with that."

Even though Russell cut short the recruiting process, there was still plenty of attention paid to him to this point. Bowers recalls one memorable day when several notables contacted him.

"On one day, I got phone calls from Tommy Bowden, Marc Trestman, Phil Elmassian and Bill Callahan," he recounted. "Those are major coaches, and guys who have coached in Super Bowls. I took the chance to pick the brains of college coaches, and I enjoy talking with them. And, of course, it helps put our program out there, and could help get some notoriety for some of our other kids."

Even with all the early attention, however, Bowers knew that West Virginia was still number one on Russell's list. In almost a word-for-word echo of his quarterback's comments, Bowers detailed his enthusiasm for becoming a Mountaineer.

"If every school offered him, West Virginia was still his number one. He grew up here being a Mountaineer fan. He wanted to be a part of that, and be close to his friends and family, and also represent the state."

Of course, WVU couldn't hope for better words to regarding an instate prospect. While the Mountaineers have been unfairly criticized for supposedly "ignoring" home grown talent, the simple fact is that a player has to want to stay home for the recruiting process to even begin. That hasn't been the case with many Mountain State products over the years, but finally the gate has swung back to the other side – and perhaps Russell will be just the first of a procession of in-state recruits heading to the WVU campus over the next few years.

No matter whether that occurs or not, the thinking is that West Virginia has landed a stellar player – and one that thinks there's nowhere better to be than WVU.

"He's just a great kid, and everything you want in a quarterback," Bowers concluded. He has a 3.97 GPA – I think he has one B in his career. If you had a son, you'd want him to be like Charlie. His work ethic and desire to be a good person and a good player make him special."

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