BY ROCKY STANLEY
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
Russell football welcomes a reset. After a banner 2016 that included 10 wins and a district championship, the Red Devils would like to press erase on last season. Injuries plagued a small group of key returners, while mistakes in key moments were a recurring theme for the 5- 6 team.
“It was tough losing those guys, not only on the field because of their experience and talent, but it hurt us in the locker room,” Russell coach T.J. Maynard said. “We needed that experience to be successful. Injuries and a lack of depth really hurt. Some guys played that in some years might not have.”
Though senior Austin Church became the school’s career passing leader, he and the team parted ways the week of Russell’s first-round home playoff loss to Western Hills.
The Red Devils finished a wildly out-of-character 1-5 at Henry R. Evans Stadium.
“None of us like what happened last year,” Maynard said of his fourth head coaching season at Russell and 16th overall. “Sometimes when you look back, those are things you can build on. I know I learned a lot of things as head coach.”
Russell made changes with coaching duties in the offseason.
“At the end of the year I always have our coaches write down things that did and didn’t work,” Maynard said. “We talked about changes.”
Maynard will be calling the offense, while Garry Morris returns to his former position as defensive coordinator. Lee Evans moves from offensive coordinator to coach quarterbacks and defensive linemen.
Russell looks to bounce back with a 74-player roster.
“Competition always makes you a better football team,” Maynard said. “... When there’s the threat of losing playing time, that motivates kids.”
Maynard walked away from team camp with his voice intact and feeling good about the Red Devils’ progress.
“One of my assistants said it’s been by far his most enjoyable camp, that senior leadership had a lot to do with that,” Maynard said. “There was more of a sense of urgency. I told coach Evans this was the first time I came through camp and didn’t lose my voice.”
Naturally, last year’s results provide plenty of incentive for the Red Devils.
“Three of our rival schools came to our house and left with a W,” Maynard said in reference to Greenup County, Ashland and Raceland. “You can’t allow that to happen.
“We weren’t that far off, but couldn’t be consistent enough and didn’t make the plays when we had to. We as coaches have to work and make sure we don’t have these lapses.”
Running backs Landen Duvall and Nathan Conley form one of the area’s top one-two punches. Duvall burst onto the scene as a junior, rushing for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns on 100 carries to gain All-Area honors.
“On last year’s preseason depth chart, he was our fourth or fifth tailback,” Maynard said. “We’ve always known Landen had the ability. He just needed some confidence in himself.
As the year went on, that grew more and more.”
Conley ran 45 times for 437 yards and five scores during his freshman season. Maynard praised Conley’s combination of football IQ, talent and drive.
“Nathan understands so much and is such a great competitor,” his coach said.
“He loves the game.”
Other running backs in the mix include sophomore Ethan Sharp and juniors Isaac Jenkins and Matt Horn. Sharp carried for three TDs as a freshman and is expected to see an expanded role. Maynard said the 6foot-4 Jenkins is “kind of growing into his frame.”
Senior Grant Wilburn and sophomore Charlie Jachimczuk are vying for the quarterback job.
“We plan to play both,” Maynard said. “They bring different things to the table.
Both are good, competitive kids. Grant has more experience and the stronger arm.
Charlie is one of those guys with a very high football IQ.
He does a lot of things with his feet to help.”
Wilburn, an All-Area punter, could also line up at tight end. Jachimczuk is a returning starter in the secondary.
The offensive line returns two starters — John Giles (5-11, 261) and junior Will Gunning (6-2, 260). Gunning moves from center to left guard. Joining them up front will be Frank Jeffrey (6-0, 202), Jackson Doak (5-9, 239) and Blake Stump (6-2, 258).
Others pushing for roles on the O-line are AJ Biggs, Cameron Jenkins, Casey Sparks, Casey Clark, Anthony Blevins and Alex Boggs.
Jenkins, a senior, returned to practice after being sidelined by a torn labrum.
Russell plans to incorporate the tight end position more this season, with Ethan Sanders and Josh Griffith as leading candidates. Seniors Reed Galloway and Jacob Thompson bring receiving experience.
Galloway caught 25 balls for 465 yards last season while Thompson had 10 for 118.
Each made two TD grabs.
“Reed had a really solid year and we’re looking for him to continue building on that,” Maynard said. “We did a poor job of getting the ball to Jacob last season. We want to do better with that.”
Malakai Anderson, a junior, could see playing time at tight end or wideout.
John Miller, Ty Huffine and Zaccheaus Snyder provide receiving depth.
Defensively, Russell traded its 4-3 for a base 3-4. Giles anchors the front at tackle.
“When John plays with a motor, he’s as good as they get,” Maynard said. “He has all the skill to be a special player.”
Duvall moved from outside linebacker to nose guard and Doak will rotate in to help.
The other defensive tackle position will be manned by Clark or Sparks. Blevins provides backup for Giles.
“Anthony has a lot of energy,” Maynard said. “He gives great effort. We just need to keep him going in the right direction all the time.”
Conley and Jenkins are the outside linebackers, with Anderson and Huffine and perhaps Chase Snedegar (hip injury) giving support. Inside starters include Sanders and Jeffrey.
Maynard said Hunter Martin had a great and could help, along with Seth Stone.
Injuries last season led to Russell starting three freshmen in the secondary.
Sharp and Thompson are the cornerbacks, while Galloway and Jachimczuk occupy the safety spots.
“Jacob and Ethan are not real big, but they’re athletic,” Maynard said.
Helping out as defensive backs will be Miller, Isaac Jenkins, Martin, Snyder, Horn, Griffith and Brandon Benge.
The Red Devils lost dependable placekicker Sam Ewing to graduation. Battling it out to fill the void are soccer players Gabe Floyd and Aaron Martin, along with Brandon Argabrite.
Russell has a 17-member senior class and Maynard said many of them have talked about “wanting to make amends for what happened last year.”
With their winning tradition, it’s not often the Red
that could be the case this season. Russell was runnerup to Fleming County in Class 3A, District 5 last season, and Russell’s coach has heard talk about Bath County being the team to beat in this year’s race.
“Russell is used to being the favorite in the district and we’re not,” Maynard said. “Maybe we haven’t earned that respect. We have to go out and earn it.
We’re coming off 5-6. There are a lot of unknowns.”