Wednesday, September 5, 2012
The redshirt frosh who would be QB
By Michael Rothstein WolverineNation
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He was a sophomore at Arlington (Texas) Martin High School dropping back to pass as the scout-team quarterback when he was hit so hard his coaches noticed.
Russell Bellomy dropped to the ground. Then he got up and made his way to the sidelines at the end of practice -- and what used to be his lip wasn't exactly there anymore.
Russell Bellomy's former high school teammates know him as a strong leader with a deep desire to win.
"He comes off the field at the end of practice and his bottom lip had detached," Martin offensive coordinator Chad Rives said. "Like that piece of skin, it ripped off so his lip was hanging down and you could see everything down there.
"He goes to get stitches and then plays the next night in the JV game and goes around the corner and gets the heck knocked out of him. Helmet pops up and he just pops up screaming, puts his helmet on and goes back into the huddle."
After that, no one at Martin High School questioned Bellomy's toughness. They never questioned his talent, either. By his junior season he was Martin's starting quarterback.
Bellomy eventually earned a scholarship to Purdue, one he spurned in favor of Michigan late in the process after the Wolverines had a coaching change, bringing in Brady Hoke.
So far at Michigan, the redshirt freshman has done well enough to ascend to the No. 2 quarterback slot behind senior starter Denard Robinson, an important role because over the past two-plus seasons -- including briefly against No. 2 Alabama on Saturday -- Robinson has missed parts of games due to injuries.
Bellomy, though, has always been a quarterback who did what he was asked. His senior season at Martin, his team would run a Wildcat package with Danzel Williams -- now at Oklahoma -- taking snaps. Bellomy would play wide receiver, but he didn't play it safe in his temporary role as a decoy.
Instead, he ended up carrying around the team's sledgehammer award (literally a sledgehammer) for a week after facing North Crowley.
"Russell got it on a Wildcat run play where he was a wide receiver," Martin coach Bob Wager said. "Came back and cracked the linebacker. When your quarterback is getting the hammer shot, you've got a winner.
"The hardest hit in the game was a crack block by our quarterback."
The hit confirmed what the players and coaches at Martin already knew: Bellomy was willing to do whatever it took for his team to win, be it throw touchdowns or lay out defenders.
The Martin players also saw a different side to him -- one that came from what friends and coaches described as a good family. They saw a player who was among the most intelligent at Martin. They saw someone who was willing to be a mentor and a motivator, even after his high school career had ended and his college career began.
The Wolverines declined to make Bellomy available for this story. Due to Michigan's policy regarding interviews of players' parents, which must be requested through the Michigan sports information office, a request to talk with Bellomy's father, Jerry, also was declined.
Former teammates, though, spoke of what Bellomy did after Martin's final loss to Trinity in the 2010 Texas state high school playoffs.
Since Wager took over at Martin, he has long stressed to each team to do something none of its predecessors had done before. Bellomy achieved that. As a junior, he led Martin to the third round of the Texas 5A Division 1 playoffs by beating Odessa Permian -- of Friday Night Lights fame -- in the second round. The following season, he gave Martin the first 10-win season of Wager's tenure.
That all ended, though, with the loss to Trinity and the message he left behind.
"After that loss, we were done for the season and he was motivating us," said offensive lineman Connor Trussell, who played with Bellomy in high school and is now at North Texas. " 'Keep going, keep going, keep going.' He left after that year and just telling us even though I'm gone, you still have to go to work, and was still pushing us."
The next season, with Bellomy still acting as a mentor and his message still with many of the underclassmen he helped lead, Martin beat Trinity and won 12 games under a different quarterback, Brodie Lambert.
Bellomy's fingerprints were there, too. Throughout his senior season, he was setting up his team's future as he worked on ensuring his own. He became a mentor to Lambert, teaching the younger QB everything he knew.
"He had the experience going through the season and everything," said Lambert, now a freshman at Missouri State. "He was telling what it was like to have all that pressure on your shoulders and how to handle it."
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Meanwhile, Bellomy was facing his own pressure. He was transitioning to Michigan through a redshirt season behind Robinson and Devin Gardner. Then, in the spring, the Michigan coaches started experimenting with Gardner at receiver, opening a window for Bellomy to push through.
The Bellomy his old teammates knew at Martin showed up during the spring game, even thousands of miles away on television.
"He's obviously changed, practicing harder and harder and working harder and harder," Trussell said. "The same mojo and the same leadership as in past years.
"I would say he's confident in what he does."
So confident that his coaches at Michigan have bought in to Bellomy as a potential future quarterback by allowing Gardner to split time throughout each week.
"Russell has really had a great fall camp," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I'm very proud of how he's progressed."
The progression will likely continue, and when Robinson leaves a competition will open up for the starter. Bellomy will once again have a chance to become a leader.