At the time of Brady Russell’s last haircut, he was a student at Fossil Ridge High School who was hoping for a shot at eventually playing Division I football.
It’s been about six years since Russell cut his hair, he said, and his growth as a player and as a person might be as impressive as the growth of his long locks.
Entering his fifth season with the Buffaloes, the former walk-on has become one of the better tight ends in the Pac-12 Conference and a leader in a crowded room.
His focus this spring, however, has been on getting healthy.
“It’s been very humbling,” he said of recovering from a leg injury that caused him to miss most of the shortened 2020 season. “I think it’s been good for me in the long run, because it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and think … I don’t want to say I thought too highly of myself, but this kind of brought me back down another level and made me feel human again, if you will, and kind of grounded me and made me realize what my identity is in.”
Russell, who joined CU as a walk-on in 2017 and earned a scholarship in 2018, became a regular starter in 2019. He caught 23 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns that season.
Last year, Russell, who will be a junior in the fall, was looking to make a bigger impact and caught five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. The next week, he was injured on CU’s fourth offensive play at Stanford and didn’t play the rest of the season.
Despite the disappointment, Russell kept a positive attitude and took some advice from his uncle, former CU star linebacker Matt Russell.
“(Matt) talked to me and he’s like, ‘Hey buddy, it’s just a bump in the road. You’re still on the right path. Keep doing what you’re doing. Just work to get back,’” Russell said.
Russell has certainly done that and has been active during individual drills this spring. The Buffs have been cautious, however, and held Russell out of scrimmages.
“We’re at the point in the spring we know what Brady is,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “We just don’t want to create a setback for him in a scrimmage scenario, which we already know what he can do.”
Although Russell is an established veteran with the Buffs, there is plenty for him to do this spring.
For starters, he’s working with the fourth tight ends coach (Bryan Cook) of his career.
“I’ve learned a lot of different things, a lot of different techniques and gotten to piece together what I like myself, so it’s been valuable,” he said.
Russell is also working with a new set of quarterbacks, with senior Sam Noyer out this spring with an injury. Freshman Brendon Lewis, Tennessee transfer JT Shrout and true freshman Drew Carter are the healthy scholarship quarterbacks this spring. Russell has never played a game with any of them.
“You want to know each other inside and out,” Russell said. “So it’s been fun watching them play and seeing them progress over the spring and seeing them take different steps.
“They’re all kind of progressing at different rates. … That’s been one of the fun things, too, is building that chemistry now that I am healthy and I can go work with them. It’s been fun.”
Another step in Russell’s growth is becoming a leader and working this spring with a young group of tight ends that includes freshmen Caleb Fauria and Louis Passarello.
“They’ve both shown flashes of greatness but they’ve also both shown flashes of being young guys,” Russell said. “They’re coming around so it’s fun seeing progress. It can be frustrating sometimes having been here for a while seeing some of the mistakes, but that’s part of the fun of it, too, is getting to help them and bring them along.”
For Russell, it’s been a year of growth, and not just with his hair. He’s one of the veteran leaders on the team and brings a renewed focus into this season and missing time with an injury.
“I guess it kind of helped me realize football isn’t forever, because it can start to feel like that every once in a while,” he said. “It made me realize my identity is in Christ; it’s not in football. So, it kind of brought me back to where I needed to be.”