The Valdosta State Blazers had the 2007 NCAA Division II national-championship game won.
All they had to do was snap the ball one more time, the clock would hit zero, and the Blazers would have their second national title in four years.
The man doing the snapping that day was Russell, a two-year starter at center and a member of the team for five years.
With the offense in the coveted victory formation, Russell snapped the ball for the final time in his collegiate career, and after the quarterback took a knee, the Blazers had a 25-20 victory over Northwest Missouri State.
Russell and his Blazer teammates were the champs.
“The last play of my college career, I snapped the ball and he took a knee, and we won the national championship in Florence, Ala.,” Russell said. “That’s my last play ever.
“Everybody says, don’t you want to play one more play? I say, not me. I don’t want to mess that one up.”
Memories of that moment, and that season, have come flooding back for Russell this week as the Blazers prepare to play for another championship.
Russell, now a football and track and field coach at LaGrange High, is making the trip to Florence, Ala. for today’s championship game against Winston-Salem along with a handful of his teammates on that 2007 team.
He recalls what it was like to have former Blazers there supporting him in 2007, and he wants to be there for the current players.
“I remembered when we played all of the former players being up there,” Russell said. “So I’m looking forward to that. That’s going to be a good time.”
Russell was a part of two championship teams at Valdosta State.
He was red-shirted his first season in Valdosta in 2003, and he was a backup offensive lineman in 2004 when the Blazers won their first championship.
In 2006, Russell stepped into a starting role in what turned out to be former head coach Chris Hatcher’s final season.
In 2007, when Russell was a senior, assistant coach David Dean took over as head coach, and he led the Blazers to a title.
Dean is now in his sixth season as head coach.
“The first one, I was a backup, a young kid,” Russell said. “The second one, being my second year being a team captain, and being a second-year starter, to end my career like that is unbelievable.”
As for this year’s squad, Russell calls it “a hell of a team,” and he’s especially impressed with the offensive linemen, a couple of whom he said will be taken in the NFL draft.
“This crew they have now, talent-wise they may beat us by two touchdowns,” Russell said.
The Blazers started the season 2-2, but they haven’t lost since and have won three games in the playoffs.
Winston-Salem, meanwhile, is 14-0 and features one of the country’s top defenses.
It will, Dean said, be a challenge for his high-powered offense.
“They’re probably one of the fastest teams that we have faced all year long,” Dean said. “They’re tremendously athletic. Their defensive line has very good pass rushers, which can cause us problems as much as we throw the football.”