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April 6, 2011Some called him The Chosen One. Others - The Golden Boy. A few more called Tyler Russell the savior of Mississippi State football.
Dan Mullen, on the other hand, said things actually started off a bit rough with the Parade All-American quarterback from Meridian, Miss.
"His recruiting story is really interesting," Mullen said. "I knew it was important, and he was a talented guy in the state as a quarterback, and we really wanted him, but, I guess in recruiting, and he'll tell you, especially as a quarterback, it was a little stand-offish between me and him at the beginning of recruiting when I first got here."
Russell, of course, committed to MSU his junior year when Sylvester Croom was still coaching the Bulldogs. Then after Croom and MSU went their separate ways, Russell said he really didn't know what was going on.
His grandmother had recently passed away, he was coming off the state championship and he was playing in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game.
When Mullen was hired at the school he had committed to attending, Russell wanted to meet this new guy. All Russell knew about Mullen was that he coached at Florida. It turns out, Mullen wanted to know more about Russell, too.
"Tyler, we were gonna shape from day one, and that, to me, even starts in the recruiting process," Mullen said. "It was because, like I said, I wanna know the traits of a quarterback. Tyler had just led his team to the state championship. I knew he could throw and he was a big, drop-back, passing quarterback, which I like. But to me, his talents on the field aren't what's important. It's his intangibles, his intelligence, his decision making, his mental and physical toughness that the team can rally behind him. I think that is really important, and that's what we brought up in recruiting him."
Russell said what really sold him on Mullen was his track record of developing quarterbacks and sending them to the NFL - something Russell hopes he can do one day.
Russell said, like many freshmen, redshirting his first season was often hard on him. What was especially tough was the uncertainty. Russell said Mullen always told him his redshirt was not guaranteed. In fact, Russell came moments away from losing that redshirt in the homecoming game.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "We were playing Houston, and I was about to go in the game right there, and I was like, I wanted to go in the game, but I was thinking, am I really ready? It turned out that he didn't put me in that game, and I thank him for that, because it payed off a lot."
Redshirting was important for Russell, and perhaps the biggest change in his development came between the 2010 spring game and the 2010 season opener, when he threw four touchdowns against Memphis.
"It was so much pressure, because the first time people and fans got to see me was in the spring game, and I wanted to do good, and I was trying to force a lot of stuff. I didn't really do that good. It made me think that I wasn't ready, so I worked hard in the summer, and I think it paid off in the Memphis game. People got to see what I can do."
Mullen said he knows Russell has all the physical tools, and he believes having a bad spring game was crucial to Russell's mental progress. Mullen said he "knew that was going to happen," but it's all a part of his development as a quarterback.
"You look at last spring, he was trying to learn and figure it all out," Mullen said. "I think what I see in Tyler this spring is someone who is very comfortable with what's going on on the field. Not that he's completely confident and knows it all, but he's very comfortable in understanding the offense and knowing the direction it's going in. I hope by the end of spring and training camp next year, getting through next season, you start to see that development where he has that, that 'it,' where he's gonna get in guys' faces if he needs to. He's not a ra-ra guy, but you don't have to do that. You just have to have that demeanor and that confidence, and I can really see him getting closer to getting there."
Russell said he is more of a quiet leader, but he has found moments when yelling at teammates helps. However, he said he prefers to help teammates learn by making them go through things themselves and experience the question they have, rather than just get an answer from Russell and try to use it.
Senior center Quentin Saulsberry said that is a sign of Russell's growing maturity.
"That's what I expect out of him, continuing to grow up and do things," Saulsberry said. "Coach always tells us, if we know what we're supposed to do, we can go to other guys and try to coach them up, but we've gotta be responsible for ourselves first. I think Tyler has stepped up with that, helping everybody out communicating with each other."
Russell said it's been quite a change over the last two years. When he arrived at Mississippi State, he was dealing with the expectations of being the next great MSU quarterback, while he was trying to learn Mullen's offense, seeking help from Tyson Lee and Chris Relf.
Now, Russell is entering his third year of school and his redshirt sophomore season. He is taking youngsters Dylan Favre and Dak Prescott under his wing, while the expectation from fans now is to simply be Relf's backup.
He said redshirting his freshman year was the best thing that could have happened to him, and now, even if the fans aren't talking about him, he has high hopes for 2011.
"My expectations are high," Russell said. "Coach has put high expectations on me, Coach (Les) Koenning. Everything is high right now. Chris is the starter, and he did a great job last year, but if I need to come in the game, I'm going to be ready. My job is to prepare like I'm the first team quarterback, and I'm pushing Chris, and Dylan is pushing me."
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