Four years ago, the current rising seniors for Benjamin Russell’s football team were just spreading their wings as the big dogs on Alexander City Middle School’s squad. They were raised under coach Shundell Russaw, who is now spreading his wings.
After four years as the head coach at ACMS, Russaw has been promoted to be the defensive backs coach for Benjamin Russell.
“I was at the middle school for four years, so this senior class was my first middle school class,” Russaw said. “It makes for an easier transition. Having coached those guys and knowing everybody’s names and being familiar with how things are done here, I feel like I’m going to be able to make even more of an impact.”
This isn’t Russaw’s first stint with the varsity Wildcats. He coached under former head coach Danny Horn but moved down to the middle school to develop his own program.
“He really wanted the experience of running his own program and I think that was good for him,” Benjamin Russell coach Kevin Smith said. “It was a good experience and really helped him grow, but his heart was really back up here (with varsity). The second we had an opening, I knew where to go.”
As a 2002 Benjamin Russell graduate, Russaw has a lot of winning experience. He was a team captain on the 2001 state championship team and he’s helped the middle school team flourish over the last several seasons.
Now having the experience of running his own program, Russaw said it’s actually easier to be an assistant at the varsity level. Although varsity certainly presents a challenge, being an assistant comes with less paperwork and organization. Things like getting food ready for the players, planning the travel and making the schedule won’t be Russaw’s duty anymore. However, he knows all the things that go into making an organization run and thinks he can be that much more useful for Smith.
“Being a head coach has given me a good idea of how to come up and be a good assistant coach,” Russaw said. “I learned the organization part and learned how to run a program, so there are some things I think I can take a load off coach Smith — things he won’t have to worry about anymore. It’s actually easier for me because all I have to do is coach a position and bring a lot of energy.”
Energy is one of the key factors that stand out about Russaw, especially to Smith. Although promoting Russaw means being required to find a new middle school coach with big shoes to fill, Smith felt it was worth the headache.
“It’s always troublesome to try to fit all the puzzle pieces together,” Smith said. “If you move him up, you have to move teaching positions and all that but we just felt like he was what our defense needed. Not just from an energy standpoint and a technique standpoint, but he’s got a great relationship with these guys up here. He’s really brought a lot to the table.”
Russaw said, “I’ve naturally been a high energy guy. With the excitement that I bring, I challenge the kids to compete at a high level in practice and workouts to get better. The ultimate goal is win a state championship. We’re not up here to have a winning season or win a (region) title; we want to win a state championship and if you’re doing to do that, you gotta practice at an elite level.
“All that hollering and running around and Wildcat pride I do, that’s to inspire and drive them and push them to go harder. My desire is to uplift people so they can look at me and feed off my energy. I embrace being that person that leads by example.”
As with most coaches who move up the ranks, Russaw’s ultimate goal is to be a head coach one day but he knows he must continue to learn and that’s one thing he’s definitely doing under Smith and defensive coordinator John Fussell.
Because Russaw has been a head coach, Smith knows he can plug Russaw into basically any position coach and he’ll thrive. For now, Russaw just wants to take advantage of the opportunity he has in front of him.
“I gotta continue to learn, continue to stay humble and soak up everything I can,” Russaw said. “This new defense that we’re running with coach Fussell, it’s not a defense I’m familiar with but I’m willing to learn and put my all into. I want to continue to be steadfast in everything I do, and I want to make a difference with the kids.
“I just love Alexander City. I’m glad to be employed here and be a football coach here; it’s a dream come true.”