If Brent Russell showed up on your doorstep on Halloween with his postgame look — grass-stained uniform, eye black mixed with perspiration running down his face and those massive arms and legs on display — you would be dumping every piece of candy in the house into his helmet.
If Russell presents such an imposing look after the game it’s hard to imagine what he must look like to opposing linemen, quarterbacks and running backs during the course of the game.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound senior anchors an Eagle line that is wreaking havoc on opposing offenses this season. Georgia Southern currently leads the Southern Conference in total defense at 286 yards per game, second in rushing defense at 96.
“Brent is a special kid,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “He’s a good leader because he’s so doggone competitive.
“I think everyone that watches us play recognizes the fact he loves to play. He’s a good player. He plays with a lot of emotion, passion. The way he plays, he’s productive.”
The Eagles are coming off their best game of the season against the rush, limiting Samford to only 63 yards, which was 35 fewer than non-scholarship Jacksonville had in a 58-0 Georgia Southern win in the opener.
Russell and the Eagles (3-1, 2-1) will be looking for a repeat performance at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Western Carolina (1-4, 0-3) in Cullowhee, N.C.
The Catamounts are averaging 182 yards per game rushing. In last Saturday’s 45-24 loss at Furman leading rusher Darius Ramsey sat out with a concussion. Ramsey has 226 yards in in five games.
Samford was averaging 171.5 yards per game before running into the Eagle buzzsaw.
“We focused all week on stopping the run,” Russell said. “We’re coming close to playing a complete game on offense and defense.
“As far as executing we’re still making mistakes,” Russell said. “We’re not playing where we want, but we are coming close.”
A finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award last year which goes to the top defensive player in FCS football Russell is one of the favorites to win it this year. In four years as a starter he has established himself as the best defensive lineman in Georgia Southern history.
“He’s strong and he’s got good hands,” Monken said. “He forces people to play more than one blocker on him. He doesn’t stay blocked.
“It’s certainly a luxury for us to have a guy like that in there,” Monken said. “He has such an impact at stopping the run in the middle.
“Our philosophy is you have got to stop the run if you hope to play good defense, and he’s been a big part of us being able to have some success doing that.”
Russell is the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, and was the pre-season pick of the coaches to repeat. He has started every game of his career — 44 straight — including a season opening start against Georgia as a true freshman.
Russell suffered an injury in that game which ended his season. He received an injury redshirt, and had four years eligibility left.
This season Russell has two sacks, four tackles for losses, and 17 tackles overall. That pushes his career marks to 22.5 sacks, 50 tackles for losses and 204 tackles.
The school record for career sacks is 24 by Edward Thomas (1993-96), and most tackles for a loss is 59 by Voncellies Allen (1996-99).
“When he gets in the backfield he has a passion for the quarterback,” Monken said. “When you watch the game on film when people want to run the ball inside they have a difficult time with Brent Russell. That doesn’t mean they have a difficult time with Georgia Southern, but they have a difficult time with Brent Russell.
“He’s as good as anyone at his position at our level. Other coaches recognize what a good player he is, and people from the outside, people who understand football, pro scouts and those kind of people, recognize he’s a good player.
“There’s enough confirmation out there our thoughts on him, and the impact he can have on a game are justified.”