Great energy is what comes to mind for Jim Grobe when he is talking about Steve Russ. Entering his tenth year of coaching, and fourth at Wake Forest, Russ moves from linebackers to the secondary.
Russ, a lieutenant and graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, is a military man. It is engrained into his being, and part of who he is. He will be the first to say he is a product of that environment. It does not mean he runs the secondary like it is a boot camp, but he does bring discipline and enthusiasm to the field, which players have grown to love. Well at least the enthusiasm part of it.
"He's pumped up," Wake Forest strong safety Cyhl Quarles said. "He's a military guy, and it helps out a lot. You got to be on point in the secondary. You got to know what you're doing, where your landmarks are. You just got to know your defense. Him being our coach really helps out. It helps out a lot, because you've got to be disciplined in the secondary, so him being a military guy helps out a lot."
Quarles got the pumped up part right. Russ flies around practice, hollering out criticism, encouragement and instructions. Grobe was Russ' position coach at Air Force, so this is normal for him.
"He loved to play, bounced out to practice every day, loved to practice," Grobe said. "I used to have to go out pregame, and pull him off the field, because he'd play a quarter before we ever kicked a game off. He was one of those nervous energy guys. He loved to go out, and loved to work out, loved to lift, loved to run and practice. I'd have to go out, and spend my whole pregame, making sure he didn't wear himself out before we ever started the game, but he coaches that way too."
This is all natural for Russ. Never lukewarm, he does not have to fake this excitement.
After his senior season at Air Force Russ was taken in the seventh round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, but was unable to play for two years.
"I served active duty for a couple of years after graduation," Russ said. "I'd take my leave and I would go do training camp, and then when training camp was over I would go back and serve. My vacation was training camp. All the guys would be like, 'Are you insane?' I was stationed in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. I flew a desk. I was in contracting. I was in the business end of the Air Force."
The timing could not have been better. Russ joined the Broncos at their peak. He only played four years in the NFL, but two of those were Super Bowl-winning seasons.
Russ knew his playing days were drawing to an end in 1999, and he had to figure out something else to do. What was next? How about coaching? Surely not; he still wanted to be around football, but coaching was the only way to do that.
Russ grew up in a family of teachers, and sees coaching as a teaching opportunity and chance to have a positive impact on the lives of young men. He certainly has the background to give him the credibility for players to trust in.
"The nice thing about Steve is a lot of coaches have to sometimes act a little bit, maybe not be who they really are," Grobe said. "Everything Steve is asking his players to do he did as a player himself. He wants players that are enthusiastic and excited, and are hard workers, and all those kind of things. They should give it to him, because that's what he did."