When one thinks of tight ends in football, names like for University of Kentucky great Jacob Tamme, former Pittsburgh Steeler great Heath Miller and Rob Gronkowski come to mind. Tight ends never quite get the credit they deserve as they are key in blocking or taking huge risks to catch the ball across the middle and sacrificing their bodies.
One local tight end however, Johnson Central’s Zach Russell, is finally getting the credit he has earned for all of the hard work he has put in during his career. He will be playing football at the college level. Russell has been on the radar for many top football programs for the past year and a half, receiving 16 offers from schools around the country.
Standing at 6 foot 4 and weighing in at around 225 pounds, he is an imposing force on the field. He was a key player in the Golden Eagles run to the 2019 Class 4A state title, in the teams thrilling 21-20 win over favored Boyle County back in December. He is an athlete in every sense of the word. Not only is Russell a heavily recruited football standout for coach Jim Matney, he is also a major part of the Johnson Central basketball team and one of the top high school wrestlers in the mountains.
You could say sports run in his blood. Russell’s father David, played center for the Bulldogs of Union College in Barbourville. It didn’t stop there; his mother Liegh, also played basketball at Johnson Central as well.
“I started out playing guard on the line when I was in like fourth grade. Then I moved to center, which is what my dad played in college,” Russell said.
Russell, like most athletes, attended basketball and football camps from and early age. It didn’t take long to realize with his size that he could have a future in sports.
“When I started to learn how to block people and catch the football, I knew I really liked the football and I started to focus all of my time on the game,” said Russell.
He was second on the team in receiving last season, with 14 catches for 246 yards and two touchdowns. He had a stellar 17.6 yards per catch average on a team that mostly relied on the ground game, but it was his play without the ball that gained him such high praise. He earned his first scholarship offer from Western Michigan on January 31st 2019. After the Bronco’s offer, they started pouring in.
“WMU’s coach (Tim) Lester came down to see if I was as tall as they said I was,” Russell said. “That was one of his main concerns. He asked me about blocking, and I told him it was one of my favorite things, and when he stood beside me, he saw that I was as tall as listed.”
To date, Akron, Army, Austin Peay, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Kentucky University, Eastern Michigan, Illinois State, Indiana State, Murray State, Ohio, Richmond, Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Yale have offered scholarships to Russell. He has also been on the radar of Central Michigan, Villanova, Rhode Island, Louisville and U.K. However, in recent weeks Russell verbally committed to Bowling Green State in Ohio.
“After talking with my family and the coaches, I just felt like BGS was the best fit for me,” Russell said. “They’re like family and they give back to the community and that was a big factor. I’ll be playing tight end there, so I’m really excited about that and looking forward to it.”
The incoming senior has been limited to what he can do as far as workouts and conditioning go, but with gyms and facilities starting to open back up he can now get his full workouts in again. Like most athletes, he just wants to get back on the field and play. Being his final year of football, he wants to go out with his pads on.
“I just want to play. I don’t care if we play a shortened season or whatever, I just want to play,” Russell said.
Look for big things from Russell this upcoming season, as hopefully whatever is decided on the season, he will have a huge senior year.