Be careful calling Kendorean Russell an underclassman. Though by all technical accounts he is, the West Jones sophomore linebacker doesn't play like one. Probably because as a ninth-grader, Russell earned valuable experience as a starter on one of the best defenses ever to grace the field in Soso.
"He's been starting since the ninth grade," said Mustangs head football coach Scott Pierson. "We tried to keep him off the field as a ninth-grader, but couldn't do it. He found a way to get on the field. And he's probably one of our better running backs, but he's so instrumental in what we do on defense that we can't afford to put him back there [at running back]."
Last Friday night in a 41-14 win over Quitman, Russell racked up a team-high 14 tackles, two sacks that went down as TFL (Tackles for Loss), and one caused fumble.
"Every game I play, I play to win," said Russell. "I play hard and play no team easy. I work hard at practice, and usually, that translates on the field in games."
"He's unbelievable," Pierson added. "He works hard and comes to practice every day, trying to get better. He does a lot of work on film study trying to understand what teams are trying to do to him.
"He's an effort guy. Athletically, he's good, but his effort is what makes him really good."
Not only did Russell lead West Jones in tackles versus Quitman, but he also leads the team in solo takedowns through three games with 28. He also leads the Mustangs with five TFL.
Russell's performance in last years Class 5A title game provided him the momentum that's carried through 2019. Against West Point, the then-freshman linebacker recorded seven solo tackles and assisted on another four. He also picked off a Green Wave pass.
"Starting my freshman year helped me a lot," said Russell. "I learned a lot. Last year was very valuable to me. The last game was also a motivation for me during the summer. The loss hurt me."
The 27-12 loss to West Point in 2018 spurred Russell to take this past offseason seriously.
“I worked hard in the weight room and on the field,” Russell added. “I also learned more from my coaches. It’s been a motivation for me to get us back to the point [we were last season].
"This year, I'm working on things I didn't do good during my freshman year."
Despite Russell being just a tenth grader, Pierson commended his team leadership on the defensive side of the ball.
For his Week 3 performance, Russell earns the honor of Sports601’s Powerade Player of the Week for the Jasper, Jones, Smith and Wayne County coverage area.
Russell and the Mustangs (3-0) host rival Wayne County (2-1) Friday night in Soso. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.