Every college football season brings a lot of roster turnover. To get you ready for the 2015 campaign, SI.com presents the Off-season Spotlight, a weekly feature on a player whose name you'll want to know by the fall. To kick things off, meet Baylor redshirt junior quarterback Seth Russell.
Why is he important?
Russell is set to replace Bryce Petty as Baylor’s starting quarterback. Petty led the Bears to back-to-back Big 12 titles and 22 wins over the last two seasons, leaving big shoes to fill. Still, Russell isn't exactly a newcomer: He has been part of coach Art Briles’s system for the past three years.
The Garland, Texas, native takes the reins under center in an era when Baylor's quarterbacks have been prolific. Robert Griffin III won the Bears’ first Heisman Trophy in 2011, and Petty finished seventh in voting in ’13 and 10th in voting last fall. Russell will also have an arsenal of playmakers at his disposal, as receivers Corey Coleman and KD Cannon both return.
What has he already done?
Russell redshirted as a true freshman in 2012 but played in 15 games as Petty’s backup in ’13 and ’14. In those two seasons Russell threw for 1,231 yards with 11 touchdowns and added 332 yards with six scores on the ground.
Last year he turned a few heads by starting in place of an injured Petty against Northwestern State on Sept. 6. Russell went 16 of 25 for 438 yards with six total touchdowns in one half of work. He took home Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of Week honors and was especially effective targeting Cannon (six catches, 233 yards, three touchdowns). “KD just knows how to get open,” Russell said after the win. “I just threw it up there and he got it. I guess you can say there was a connection there.”
How did he look this spring?
While some coaches opt to delay naming a starting quarterback entering spring practice, Briles was hardly subtle discussing Russell’s spot atop the depth chart. "Somebody is going to have to beat out Seth Russell for the QB job,” the coach said in February.
Russell ensured that didn’t happen. In three scrimmages he outpaced fellow passers Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham by completing 48 of 73 attempts for 565 yards with six touchdowns. While Russell’s status as the de facto starter may not have been seriously threatened, he said the competition helped him improve. “It’s been really competitive,” he told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “Every time there’s an open spot everybody is going to be fighting for it. It just pushes me to do better. The coaches and the team have really helped me out with being comfortable. The trust has built, and we’ve progressed.”
Anything else you should know?
The 6’3”, 220-pound Russell is surprisingly athletic. According to Matt Hayes of The Sporting News, Russell first impressed Baylor’s coaches on the basketball court at Garland High. During his recruitment, he threw down a between-the-legs dunk in front of then-Bears offensive coordinator Phil Montgomery. Russell also reportedly runs a 4.49 40-yard dash, faster than some receivers.
Show the highlights!
Russell was a three-sport star at Garland High, where he lettered in football, basketball and track. As a senior in 2011, he earned second-team all-district honors after leading a 9-3 squad to the second round of the Class 5A Division I playoffs. He recorded 1,973 yards of offense with 19 touchdowns that year.