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Baylor's Seth Russell confidently assumes role of starting QB

5/11/2015
Art Briles says new Baylor QB Seth Russell has "a little bit of a fearless quality." AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

WACO, Texas -- Coach Art Briles successfully plugs quarterbacks into his high-flying Baylor offense the way most of us recharge our cell phones every night.

Briles' secret is that he builds his offense around his quarterback, but he's also been spot-on when it comes to identifying guys who are the right fit both physically and mentally.

So when Briles says he has a good feeling about Seth Russell, who's next in line to pilot Baylor's offense, is there any reason to doubt a guy whose past three quarterbacks have either guided the Bears to back-to-back Big 12 championships (Bryce Petty), set a single-season passing record at Baylor (Nick Florence) or won the Heisman Trophy (Robert Griffin III)?

Russell, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound redshirt junior, is a little different than all three. He's his own guy with his own skill set, but shares a fundamental trait with those who've come before him at one of college football's real glamour positions.

The spotlight of being the Baylor quarterback isn't too bright for him.

"The accomplishments of the previous quarterbacks here are astonishing; how the stats just keep improving over and over again," Russell said. "Coming into this situation, if I tried to look at what the previous quarterbacks have accomplished, I could easily get overwhelmed. But I've never looked at it that way.

"The way I've looked at it is getting better 1 percent of the time, which is what coach [Briles] always tells us. If you try to do it all in one big step, you're going to miss some things ... and that's where it can get you."

Briles has taken Baylor's program from the dumpster to dizzying heights and with an offense that has become college football's version of a high-wire act. Russell doesn't flinch, and why should he? Last summer, he began taking actual flying lessons and is a double major in Speech Communication and Aviation Science.

In other words, he's exactly what Briles is looking for in his quarterback.

"It takes a guy who's really talented and really confident," Briles said. "Seth has both of those qualities. Plus, he's got a little bit of a fearless quality that I also like."

One of the things that may be harder for Russell is that he's following a guy who led Baylor to back-to-back Big 12 championships. Petty's numbers were equally gaudy over the past two seasons -- 8,055 passing yards, 61 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

"Bryce's situation in following Nick was a lot different than Seth following Bryce just because of where our program is now as opposed to what it was three years ago," Briles said. "The mistakes he makes are going to be a lot more magnified. It's going to be interesting to see how he handles it. I think he has the mentality and personality to handle it really well."

So do Russell's teammates, who've been blown away by his athletic ability -- both as a passer and as a runner.

"He's going to surprise a lot of people with all the different things he can do, but not us because we've seen it," said junior receiver Corey Coleman, who led the Bears in receiving last season. "The best thing about Seth is that he's one of those guys who doesn't want to let anybody down, coach Briles, his teammates, anybody at Baylor. He's going to do everything he can to help us win another championship, and that's the kind of quarterback you want to play with."

Russell has excellent speed to go along with a big arm, so he's going to be much more of a threat to run than Petty ever was the past two seasons. And with an offensive line that retains everybody from last year, not to mention proven big-play threats at receiver such as KD Cannon and Coleman, Russell is confident the Baylor offense will be as versatile as ever.

"We'll be a little bit different," Russell said. "I think I'll be able to extend plays. No offense to Bryce. He's an amazing quarterback. But speed-wise, I have the advantage. If the defense drops eight on third-and-6, I can get those 6 yards if I need to. We're going to be able to open up the running game more with my feet and the running backs. The dual threat can make our offense that much more potent."

One of the things Russell's teammates respect so much about him is that he's waited his turn and worked feverishly along the way. So many younger quarterbacks in this era of instant gratification get antsy if there's a veteran in front of them and look to transfer somewhere they might be able to play earlier.

Leaving Baylor never crossed Russell's mind. He was too consumed with learning from those in front of him, growing as a quarterback and being ready when his time came. He filled in last season for a game and a half when Petty injured his back against SMU and played well. But, now, it's Russell's team.

"When you wait your turn and get your opportunity, you cherish it more," Russell said. "You want to pounce on it."

Russell isn't a numbers guy, and he's not going to measure himself against how his numbers stack up with the past three Baylor quarterbacks. Going back to the 2011 season, the Bears' starting quarterback has averaged 4,164 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes per season.

That's a daunting standard to live up to, but the bigger picture is more important to Russell.

"We have a target on our backs now that we have two titles," Russell said. "But to achieve greatness, we have to look past what we've already done and strive to get better. Texas, Oklahoma, TCU, all those teams, are gunning for us, and that's something we want.

"We've achieved some things here, but not our bigger goal, which is a national championship."