Russell “knew EKU was the place I wanted to be.”

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Bearcat star casts his lot with Colonels, still has NFL dream

By John Herndon

Jacob Russell's dream of playing in the NFL is as alive as ever.

Tabbed by many as being the state's top quarterback prospect, the Anderson County High School senior's name was often mentioned with some major college football programs last fall, but last week, Russell gave a verbal commitment to Eastern Kentucky University, a Football Championship Subdivision school. The level of play is commonly referred to as Division I-AA.

Russell notified the Colonel coaching staff of his decision last Tuesday after scoring 23 points for the Anderson basketball team as it defeated Spencer County.

Russell, a second-team all-stater in the Courier-Journal coaches' selections, will sign with the Colonels today, Wednesday, Feb. 3, the first day of the 2010 signing period.

Russell threw for 6,733 yards and 65 touchdowns at Anderson. He ran for 923 yards and 38 scores. The Bearcats compiled a 33-12 record over the last four years.

Russell was also named the Class 5A Player of the Year and is a two-time winner of the District 4 Player of the Year award.

“EKU is somewhere where I can be on the field helping them win conference and national championships for four years,” Russell said in an e-mail message. “I loved the coaching staff and look forward to playing for (head) Coach (Dean) Hood. Coach (Mike) Springston (offensive coordinator) and (graduate assistant) Al Holland work with the quarterbacks and I've already formed a great bond with them.”

The Colonels finished 5-6 last year with two of the losses coming to Division I teams Kentucky and Indiana. Eastern's possible game-winning touchdown pass at Indiana fell incomplete in the end zone on the final play of the game at Indiana.

Eastern was 5-3 in the OVC, just barely missing on a bid to the NCAA playoffs.

Hood, a former defensive coordinator at Wake Forest, seems to be pushing the Colonels in the right direction, according to Russell. “EKU football will be a perennial power for many years to come, “ he says. “The coaching staff is doing all the right things, and are bringing in great players year after year. The team was very young last year and shows great promise for the near future. They are doing a great job in recruiting, especially in-state.”

Eastern has also received commitments from all-staters Eric Shaw, a running back from Lafayette, and Dylan Kupper, a lineman from Louisville Trinity.

A 4.0 student who plans on studying physical therapy, Russell says that going to Eastern instead of a Big 10 or SEC school is not a detriment to his dream of playing pro football. He knows Eastern's long history of putting players in the NFL, from Wally Chambers to Chad Bratzke to Yeremiah Bell, the Miami Dolphins' defensive back who played in Sunday's Pro Bowl.

He also knows that Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo, another Pro Bowler, played in the Ohio Valley Conference at Eastern Illinois.

Russell said that the coaching staff plans to redshirt the entire freshman class next fall. Last year's quarterback, T.J. Pryor, of Louisville, was the OVC Freshman of the Year.”

Russell said he had scholarship offers from Tennessee-Martin, Murray State and Georgetown College and that Kentucky and Wake Forest both offered him a preferred walk-on status. He said Western Kentucky indicated that it would offer a scholarship this week but “I told them I was solid to EKU.”

Russell made official visits to Eastern and Western and had others scheduled but canceled, “(I) knew EKU was the place I wanted to be.”

Russell feels a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

“When you first start getting letters, phone calls and coaches coming to your school you think the whole recruiting thing is great,” he said. “But the deeper you get into it the more difficult it gets, especially after the season when you know you've basically got your choices and its time to make a decision. It is very relieving knowing it's over and I've made the right choice.”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.