BY IVAN SANDERS, Elizabethton Star
Anyone that has ever been around Corey Russell knows that the talented Elizabethton Cyclone athlete is not about fanfare whether it’s on the football gridiron or the baseball diamond.
For Russell, it’s always been about letting what he does when he takes the field speak the loudest.
On Wednesday afternoon inside The Commons Area at Elizabethton High School all the spotlight fell directly on Russell, however, as the senior made it official to become a member of the Centre College Colonels located in Danville, Kentucky.
He signed his National Letter of Intent before a large crowd of family, friends, coaches, and teammates from both the football and baseball teams.
“It’s great just having everybody here to support me,” said Russell about the large gathering. “It’s a big day for me and a big milestone to reach. Everybody here has had a big impact on my life in some way or somehow and I truly appreciate it.”
Just like a perfectly, fitted glove, Russell said that Centre was the right choice for him especially since he could play both football and baseball.
“Everything about Centre fit me,” stated Russell. “I was like choosing one or the other, but I don’t know if I can do one without the other. I am really excited to do both.
“Both sports have their own challenge but it has helped me out to be a better athlete.”
Whether running the football or stealing a key base, Russell has been a household name in the Tri-Cities area and has led by example not only on the field of play but in everyday life to those around him.
“For me, as a coach, if my son Rider grows to be 6’5, I want him to be like Carter Everett and if he grows up to be 6’7, I want him to be like Garrett Jennings,” said Cyclone head football coach Shawn Witten. “But if he is 5’9 to 5’10, I want him to be like Corey Russell.
“It doesn’t matter the size you are or the skill set you have—it’s all about being the best.”
Witten was also quick to point out that Russell was never afraid to take on expectations whether it meant success or failure.
“The thing that you lose with Corey most is the intangibles—the things that you can’t coach and the things that you can’t teach,” Witten went on to say. “The community, the program, the school all have expectations and the minute that Corey stepped on this campus he by far raised those expectations.
“He challenged me as a coach to get better and he challenged me as a coach to go out there and to learn more and to come back and give him more because he was a player that needed more,” continued Witten. “He needed a challenge and motivation to be better and he needed skills to take him to the next level.
“Corey was never afraid to fail even though those expectations were extremely high and even though when he touched the football, he only got five yards and everybody was waiting for that highlight reel—he never shied away from those expectations.
“Whether it was making a catch or being a relief pitcher in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded with two outs and he had to come in and be that reliever—the moment was never too big for him.
“For most people, their heart would be beating out of their chest but Corey he thrived for those moments.”
Russell has sat out most of his senior year in baseball due to being injured on the last play of the Cyclones football playoffs against Anderson County.
However, Cyclone head coach baseball coach Ryan Presnell said that hasn’t kept Russell from coming to practices and being a calming balm for his younger players.
“Corey has been the face of our program for four years,” said Presnell. “A guy that started for three years and this year we call him coach but I think we need to change his term to a special advisor for Elizabethton baseball.
“He has contributed in ever capacity that he could —base running, pitching, defense, hitting and now coaching. We have just loved having Corey around the baseball program.”
Presnell went on to say that Russell’s presence has been a motivational tool for his team.
“Everybody around Corey took it way harder than he did which is a testament to him,” added Presnell. “I know that he has a lot of things going on in his mind and his heart about his recovery and his rehabilitation and not being able to play baseball this year.
“But through it all he has been an inspiration to these young guys—just his presence with us has a calming effect on those young guys and they have been able to do a pretty good job to replace some of the things that he does but of course they can’t replace all of them.”
When asked about the special advisory position to Presnell, Russell said that the opportunity had given him insight that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“It’s cool looking in from a coach’s point of view and seeing how they see things and what they would do in situations,” Russell said. “I think I am there to give the guys a little assurance. If they have any questions, they can ask me and I give feedback to them.”
Russell has a massive fanbase from little kids looking to be just like him to coaches and fans wherever he has played.
However, his most significant cheering section and support have come from his parents, Keith and Emily Russell along with his brothers Logan and Cade. Cade will be an incoming freshman at Elizabethton in the fall.
“My parents have been by my side all my life,” Russell commented. “They have done so much that I can’t even explain it. They have gone to all the ball games switching between my brother and me. I really appreciate that.”