LAFAYETTE, La. — Trevor Russell loves football the way few people ever will. Now he’s rehabbing his body for one last shot at glory on the gridiron.
Playing the sport he loves since the age of 5, Russell starred at wide receiver for Casa Grande Union and then went on a college football odyssey that eventually took him to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to play for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Whether it was youth football, high school or multiple stops at the junior college and FBS levels, Russell has always loved the game. His passion is borne not just from that love but also from sacrifice.
As Russell told PinalCentral in a recent episode of the Retro Rewind podcast, he was willing to sacrifice whatever it took to keep playing football and to help his team in any way possible.
If that meant the former star wideout and return specialist had to be a frontline blocker on special teams, he was more than up for it.
“Here (at Louisiana), big difference,” he said. “We have an All-American returner in Chris Smith here. And you know, game respect game, he’s a better returner than I am ... It’s definitely been an adjustment going from being the guy with the ball to the guy blocking for the guy with the ball, but it’s fun. I’ll tell you what, I like hitting people a lot more than I knew I did.”
For Russell, he was going to do whatever it took to travel with the team and actually play in games. He doesn’t see that as remarkable, but it’s something many players wouldn’t do.
He doesn’t need the spotlight. He just wants to play.
“It’s just the love for every aspect of the game,” he said. “If someone was a returner previously and they got moved to a frontline blocker and they’re gonna pout about it and be upset about it, I mean, how much do you really love the game? Are you really committed to the game and to the team? I just want to help my team win.”
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Russell did just that before he suffered a bilateral sports hernia injury in the team’s fifth game of the season. The Ragin’ Cajuns started the season 4-1 and finished with a 10-1 record, ranked No. 15 in the season’s final AP Top 25 poll. For perspective, that was a higher national ranking than any Pac-12 team.
Russell had surgery in December. On the first day of spring ball, he was reaching for a back shoulder catch when he aggravated his prior injury. But while he had to step away from the field for the remainder of spring ball, he said it allowed him more time to study plays and the mental aspect of the game.
Russell plans to have a bigger role with the team this year, in his redshirt senior season, so he’s working hard to be physically and mentally prepared for the summer and to be ready to go for fall ball.
Catching greatness with Cougars
At CG Union, Russell played all four years on the varsity. As a freshman, he broke his wrist but played through the injury without missing a game. He said he mostly played defense after the injury because he couldn’t catch.
Starting his sophomore season, he went on a three-year tear with the Cougars, shattering school records. He eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving all three years, he had 11 receiving touchdowns as a sophomore, followed by 19 TDs as a junior and another 14 his senior year.
Russell had a great rapport with rocket-armed quarterback Brock Hall, and he also teamed up with another dynamic receiver one year younger than him in Cameron Gardner.
“That was really something special for me and Cam because him and I grew up together, him and I were best friends since we were like 7 years old,” Russell said.
His favorite high school football memory was beating Tempe Marcos de Niza during his senior season in 2016. The Cougars were heavy underdogs but defeated the Padres 27-13, with Russell catching seven passes for 189 yards and two scores.
After high school, Russell played at Arizona State, then went to Mesa Community College and to the Gila River Hawks of the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference before arriving at Louisiana, where he reunited with coach Billy Napier, the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Napier was the offensive coordinator at ASU when he recruited Russell to Tempe in 2017. They developed a strong relationship, which played a big part in Russell coming down to the Bayou State.
Russell was glad to play the 2020 season as a reserve receiver and a special teams player, but his goal is to have an even bigger role this fall.
“I’m striving for something more this season, but whatever role I get, I’m gonna take it, and I’m gonna do the best I can with it,” he said.