BEREA, OHIO -- Baldwin-Wallace College sophomore cornerback Brandon Russo, a graduate of Olmsted Falls High School, knew he wanted to continue his athletic career at the next level and play college football. After multiple visits to colleges and universities around Ohio, Russo found what he was looking for at B-W.
Russo was looking for a school that had an excellent academic reputation and a football program with a great tradition and one that plays for championships. This Saturday, Russo and his Yellow Jacket teammates will get a chance to do just that when they host No.2-ranked the University of Mount Union at The George Finnie Stadium at 1:30 p.m. B-W, 7-1 overall, needs to beat Mt. Union, 8-0, to move into a first place tie with the Purple Raiders and No.11-ranked Ohio Northern University.
"After my visit to B-W I felt an instant connection with the place," said Russo. "I visited quite a few colleges in the OAC [Ohio Athletic Conference], but B-W stood out compared to the others. Head Coach John Snell focused on how the Yellow Jackets were a close family, and he wasn't joking around when he was recruiting. In my second year here, I can see how the family values really show in the senior leadership we have.
"To have an opportunity to play for a championship is really exciting," said Russo, who has 26 total tackles and seven pass breakups this fall. "We have had a good season and beating Mount Union would help us achieve our second goal. Every year, our goals are to have a winning record, winning an OAC title, advance to the NCAA Division III Playoffs and win a national title."
Russo knew he wanted to play football in college, but realized he had to find a school that offered the major he desired.
"I really liked the small campus atmosphere that B-W has and they also had the major I wanted to pursue in computer science," said Russo who hopes to land a job with a computer company after graduation.
Russo was a two-way player in high school and after entering B-W realized he could see the field faster if he focused his attention on the defensive side of the ball.
"I really wasn't worried about what position I played," said Russo "I just wanted to get on the field and I would do whatever it took to play."
The position that Coach Snell and his staff thought best-suited Russo was in the secondary at cornerback.
"With the ability Brandon had as a skill player in high school," said Snell, "we thought with his speed and ability to change direction that cornerback was the best fit for him."
When asked if he missed the offensive side of the ball Russo replied "I don't really reflect on it too much, I try to focus on what's in front of me a do the best at my job."
This Saturday, when BW plays Mt. Union, Russo and his mates in the secondary will face their stiffest test of the season as the Purple Raiders enter the game first in the OAC with 278 passing yards per game and have the best player in Division III in wide receiver/ return specialist Cecil Shorts III.
"This is a giant test for Brandon and our secondary," said Snell, who is 56-34 in nine years at B-W. "You can't stop their passing game or Cecil Shorts. You just hope to contain it and him enough to give the offense a chance to score more points than Mt. Union. It is definitely a huge challenge for us, but I think we're ready."
During his freshman year, Russo was a member of the kickoff team and started two games at the end of the season when the injury bug set in for the Yellow Jackets. Now as a sophomore, Russo has been named the starting cornerback and feels no pressure in a veteran dominated secondary.
"I feel no pressure at all being the young guy," said Russo, "it's great having senior leaders in Ryan Dugan (Mentor) and Ryan Wallace (Uniontown/ Lake) to help me out and push me at the same time. It's been easy to adapt as a starter because of the leadership and influence the seniors bring to the team, and that's why I believe we are off to such a great start being 7-1."
"Brandon is probably one of our most improved players from our off-season program in the weight room and during spring ball." said secondary coach Tom Watts. "He earned the starting job outright with his hard work and dedication. We look for Brandon to keep improving on this season and become an impact player for B-W in the years to come."
"Its difficult at times balancing school with football, especially with a winning record because all you can think about is next week's game," said Russo, "but it's allowed me to become more organized and develop time management skills with practice and studying."
Russo has plenty of school and football left in his B-W career and he looks forward to the rest of this spectacular season as well as the one's to follow. And, you can bet he's been doing a lot of studying this week of the Mt. Union offense and Cecil Shorts III.
Following this Saturday's game versus Mt. Union, B-W ends its regular season next Saturday, Nov. 13 when it travels to University Heights to play OAC and Cleveland cross-town rival John Carroll University in the Annual Battle for the Cuyahoga Gold Bowl Trophy on Wasmer Field in Don Shula Stadium at 1:30 p.m.
FOR MORE B-W Sports Information, please contact Sports Information Director Kevin Ruple by telephone at 440-826-2327 and e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. or Assistant SID Jeff Miller by phone at 440-826-2780 and email at email@example.com Fans can access the latest B-W athletics information at www.bw.edu/athletics and we invite you to join us on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/bwyellowjackets and Twitter at http://twitter.com/bwathletics