BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ferris State Bulldogs are back in the hunt for that elusive national championship, and as they head into the quarterfinals, Travis Russell is at the helm.
Ferris State had expected to contend this year, but the lineup is unexpected. Injuries have kept returning quarterback and Harlon Hill Trophy winner Jayru Campbell off the field.
So Russell, a fifth year senior, is stepping up — but it’s been a roller coaster season for him, too.
“I came into the year starting and broke my rib in that first game,” Russell recounted, “so I missed a lot of time to injury. And then coming into the latter part of the year, I just wanted to be here, be a guy the team could count on if they needed me and it turns out they’re going to need me a in big manner.”
Russell led the Bulldogs to three straight wins, beating Michigan Tech and rival Grand Valley State to win the outright GLIAC title and complete a second consecutive undefeated regular season, and then dominating Central Missouri in the playoffs.
“And good for him, right?” Ferris State head coach Tony Annese said. “There’s some karma involved in just him deciding to come back for his fifth year instead of transferring somewhere else and then all of a sudden, now he gets this opportunity. Just an incredible young man.”
“There’s pressure, but pressure is a privilege,” Russell said. “I’m honored to be in this position, have this opportunity and have the team count on me.
Five years after leading Grand Rapids West Catholic to back-to-back state championships, Russell has a chance to lead the Bulldogs to their first ever Division II NCAA football national championship.
“There’s such a similarity in preparation and also just understanding that once you get there, you really don’t have to change anything. I think what always happens is what’s done in the dark is brought to the light,” he said. “So if you’ve really prepared and done the right things when the lights weren’t on, you know you’re going to be fine when they do come on. And I think what’s great about this program (is) we’ve done a lot of the right things when no one is looking and it’s shown in the big games.”