Dec. 26, 2003
Fred Russell will enter the 2004 Outback Bowl just eight carries shy of 500 as a member of the University of Iowa football team. He’ll probably get to the half-century point early in the Hawkeyes’ date with Florida, perhaps as early as the first quarter.
Russell, a senior from Inkster, Mich., would have it no other way. As he said during Iowa’s Outback Bowl media day, it’s his role on this year’s nationally ranked Iowa football team.
“Last year, I was going in as a back-up. This year, I went in knowing I was the starter and I was going to have to carry the load,” Russell said.
Fred Russell has been Iowa’s workhorse in 2003. He’s already carried the ball 261 times — 227 more than any other Hawkeye — and gained more than 1,200 yards for the second straight season. Not bad numbers for a guy that stands just 5-feet-8.
“It’s different, much different. You approach things differently and have different responsibilities,” he added.
Make no mistake, Russell carried the load. He toted the pigskin 261 times during Iowa’s first 12 games of 2003 – 41 more times that he did a year ago and 227 more times than any other member of the ’03 Hawkeyes.
Russell became only the third rusher in Iowa history to gain 1,000 yards in more than one season. And, he passed 1,200 yards gained for the second straight season when he collected 137 in Iowa’s season-ending victory at Wisconsin.
And, speaking of Wisconsin, it was Russell’s one-yard touchdown run – his sixth of the season – in the third quarter that gave Iowa the lead it wouldn’t relinquish against the Badgers.
Many would argue that Russell’s senior season was clear evidence that he deserves a shot at the next level, the National Football League. Fact is, he earned just about every one of the 1,205 yards he gained thus far in 2003 because he was running behind an offensive line that – while anchored by the best in the land, Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery – was oft-injured and oft-juggled.
“We had a share of ups and downs with injuries, but that’s just part of the game. We persevered and got the job done,” said Russell.
Iowa’s second-team all-Big Ten back figures his work as a Hawkeye isn’t complete. He’s looking forward to the 2004 Outback Bowl for the obvious reason: He figures the running game will once again be key to victory.
“We hope so,” Russell said when asked about whether the Hawkeyes will be able to run on the Gators. “We have to execute and get things going.”
“I’m going to miss the college atmosphere and I’m going to miss joking around with the guys. I’ll never forget this. It’s been special.”
Iowa Senior Fred Russell
Russell said fundamentals have been stressed during Iowa’s bowl game preparations. On a lighter note, he said he likes the Hawkeyes’ new home-away-from-home.
“I like this weather,” he said with a smile under a Florida sun that had baked the practice field to a near 80 degrees.. “I’m a Midwesterner, but this is everybody’s kind of weather.”
Russell also can’t wait to test the turf in Raymond James Stadium. “I hope it’s a fast track.. I haven’t been there yet, but I can’t wait.”
Russell can wait, however, for the final gun to sound on his career as a Hawkeye. He’s enjoyed helping put the Iowa football program back where it belongs: Among the nation’s elite with a Bowl Championship Series game (2003 FedEx Orange Bowl) last year and a return visit to Florida and a January bowl game this season.
“I’m going to miss the college atmosphere and I’m going to miss joking around with the guys,” he said. “I’ll never forget this. It’s been special.”