John Russ handed the ball off and his running back pitched it back to him. He cocked his arm and fired a deep ball towards the end zone.
The stadium held its collective breath as receiver J.T Palmer laid out for the ball in the middle of double coverage. Russ threw his arms skyward as the Bears won 45-42 over Jacksonville during the 2013 season.
“That was probably one of the best moments. The crowd was insane that game.” Russ said.
At the time Russ was a freshman quarterback with just 8 starts under his belt.
Four years later, Russ is set to start his senior season. While his abilities on the field have grown, life off the field has remained the same.
Russ is the definition of a simple man. Even down to food that he eats.
“He doesn’t like a whole lot of different foods. He will eat a hamburger, chicken fingers or maybe a little bit of pizza,” said Bobby Lamb, head coach of the Bears.
It’s the love for the little things in life that made Russ the laid-back person and football player he is today.
“John Russ is a simple guy who enjoys being with his girlfriend and playing with his dogs,” Russ said. “My whole life revolves around football.”
Russ grew up in a family who played football. He wanted to be like his older brother, so he began to play around the age of 6.
The football in New York was a lot different from that in the south, Russ said. He had to play up in different age groups as the game just isn’t as big up there as it is in Georgia.
He moved down South at the age of 11. He says the transition was not a huge deal and feels like he is a “Georgia boy” as the majority of the life he remembers has been spent here.
Russ went to Mill Creek High School in Buford, Georgia. He was the starting quarterback for three seasons, racking up over 6,000 yards and 54 touchdowns.
This grabbed the attention of college scouts. Russ did not receive any offers from major schools in the state, mostly just preferred walk-on options. Then, Reinhardt came in with an offer.
“They were like, ‘We will give you some money and make sure you don’t have to pay anything,’” he said.
Carroll McCray, who at the time was working as Mercer’s assistant head coach, reached out to Russ and expressed interest in him. He explained to Russ what Mercer was trying to build with their football program and invited him for a visit.
“I came down here and went to a basketball game. It was a really cool environment,” He said. “It had great academics and gave me a chance to achieve my dream of playing Division One football.”
McCray left to take a job elsewhere before he ever coached a game on Mercer’s staff under Bobby Lamb, but landing Russ has payed off for the program.
Russ has started every game since the program relaunched in 2013. He has amassed numerous accolades including Pioneer Football Offensive Freshman of the Year and multiple Player of the Week awards.
The Bears recently added two big name quarterbacks in freshman Kaelan Riley and graduate transfer Johnny McCrary. With two highly touted back ups behind him, Russ is feeling the push to be a better quarterback.
“Competition breeds success. I have always lived by that,” Russ said. “When you have guys behind you, you don’t get complacent. You realize that if something happens they can come in there and take your spot.”
After football is over he hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of Coach Lamb. Russ wants to be a graduate assistant and eventually wants to be a head coach.
Lamb already sees the makings of a coach in the way that Russ approaches the game.
“He is a football coach,” Lamb said. “He loves watching tape.”
Growing up Russ always ended up on bad teams that struggled to win games, he said. But the teams seemed to find a way to win the last game of the season.
As he returns for his senior season at Mercer, he is on a team that is contending for a title, but the goal to end on a high note remains the same as his youth football days.
“I want those 28 seniors to go out on top because we have worked our tail off more than people realize,” Russ said “We saw the whole thing build and we just want to end with a nice icing on the cake, a nice little SoCon ring on top.”