Mike Russell – Defensive Back – 1973-1974
Mike Russell played two seasons at BYU, however he was a Junior College transfer from Santa Clara so he did actually play his entire time while at BYU. Russell played at the beginning of the Lavell Edwards era when the team was still starting to transition from a below average team to a team that was winning games and making a national impact.
In fact, the first five years or so of Lavell Edwards are often overlooked and ignored. The first four seasons saw him go 25-19-1, records that appear to be similar to the first three years of Kalani Sitake (20-19). Mike Russell gets forgotten because he played in those first four years that fans like to forget about, because it was not the regular 9-3 or better that Edwards had for the rest of his career.
The team was still trying to figure its identity out when Russell was playing and needed a solid base to get that base down to become what they became in 1975 and after. Russell could be considered that solid base that helped the team get out of the slump that had existed since the start of BYU Football. Injuries kept him off the field a bit which hurts his ranking, but while on the field, he was pretty consistent and making a difference getting six tackles and quite often finding a way to get a turnover to shift the momentum in the game.
Remember the statistics are based off of the position and the time period. If Russell was a linebacker in the 2000’s, his statistics grade would be a D+, but he was a DB in the early 1970’s. As some of my other articles have mentioned, passing the ball wasn’t very common in the game at this time, and despite that Russell pulled down 12 interceptions in his two seasons. The most impressive stat is that out of those 12 interceptions, three of them went for touchdowns. In 1974 Russell was actually the teams fifth leading player in Touchdown receptions on his two INT returns. He also added 13 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries, not bad for a guy who didn’t actually have to cover many passes.
Memorable Moments C
In 1974, BYU Football played in their first ever bowl game after winning the WAC for only the second time in school history. Although Russell may not have any highlights still around or be a memorable player per say in the history of BYU Football, the fact that he was a team leader and difference maker on the first team that ever made it to a bowl game makes him memorable, whether we know his name or not. During that 1974 season, Russell caused three turnovers in games that were decided by one score that went the Cougars way. If he doesn’t play, BYU may not make a bowl game that year and maybe Lavell Edwards legacy wouldn’t have started for a few more years.
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Tomorrow we hit day 70! We will be 30% the way to gameday from the start of this list. If you’ve missed any of the other articles be sure to check them out below.