The story arc for the 2010 recruiting class had the process all but ending on Friday with the decisions of Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks -- it was possible that the Longhorns could have continued to pursue Corey Nelson had Hicks not become a Longhorn, but he would have been the only target left on the board for Texas. However, that storyline didn't even really make it to Friday morning, as news broke on Thursday that Shreveport Evangel Christian kicker Will Russ was headed to Austin for a visit from Friday to Sunday afternoon.
Thursday evening and early Friday were filled with an erroneous report from Shreveport that Russ had already committed to the Longhorns after receiving his offer on Thursday morning -- which he had not -- and a similar report in the Statesman with a quote from Russ' head coach John Bachman that he thought Texas had already offered and that Russ would commit. All the misinformation prompted Russ to confirm his continued commitment to the Piggies in an interview with the Arkansas Rivals affiliate. That changed officially on Sunday afternoon at the end of Russ' visit to Austin -- he had officially received his Texas offer, which occurred in all likelihood on Friday evening or some time on Saturday in a meeting with Mack Brown in his office and news of his commitment broke on Sunday ($), making him the 25th and final commitment of the class.
The announcement came from Bachman, who was unable to speak for Russ when asked about why the talented kicker/punter decided to switch his commitment, which came despite Texas not having the landscape architecture program that helped draw him to Arkansas. With the Longhorns losing the incredibly reliable Hunter Lawrence and Ryan Bailey, the hero of the 2006 Nebraska game in Lincoln, the position of kicker became a serious need and the coaches simply had to make the decision about whether they would offer a kicker a scholarship or ask them to wak on with the program. Lawrence was the first kicker to receive a scholarship offer from Mack Brown, who had turned down an opportunity to offer Georgetown star Mason Crosby, and Justin Tucker was subsequently offered a scholarship as well. But Tucker hasn't kicked field goals since high school and struggled in getting the ball into the end zone on kickoffs -- Russ will compete with Tucker for both of those jobs and apparently began receiving interest from Texas several weeks ago as the numbers for the class became solidified.
Russ isn't the first prospect to attend Texas from Shreveport Evangel, one of the top football programs in the state of Louisiana -- the school also produced Phillip Geiggar, who is now a member of the football staff there, Stevie Lee, and both Pittman brothers. It's also the home of one of the top prospects in 2011, stud defensive end Jermauria Rasco, who will probably end up being ont eh to absolute top prospects in the entire country and will be a top target for the Longhorns at the position. Rasco has listed Texas as one of his two favorites for some time now.
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Bachman engaged in what must be a bit of hyperbole after Russ' commitment when he said that Russ was the best athlete on their campus (a statement he has made at other times ($)) -- that honor undoubtedly belongs to Rasco, but the point is clear. Some reps at wide receiver were considered for Russ by the coaching staff, a decision they ultimately decided against in an effort to help him focus on kicking. The third baseman for the Evangel baseball team, Bachman says that Russ is such a unique prospect becaue of his ability to use his athleticism to handle poor snaps and carry out fake punts, as well as use his strong leg to boom punts and long field goals.
Russ is 6-3 and 170 pounds, giving him excellent size for a kicker and he reportedly has solid speed -- he may not be able to run down talented kick returners, but there is a strong chance that if he learns how to take good angles, he could save a touchdown or two during his time at Texas. While many kickers in high school take advantage of their ability to kick field goals from a tee, Russ has been kicking from the ground -- Bachman believes that will aid his transition to college.
A top performer in Chris Sailor's kicking camp in July, the proprietor described what helped set Russ apart ($) from the crowd:
He's one of those guys that's been under the radar a little bit. He's always had a good leg but he's not one of those guys that has jumped out at you but the last two days he's really done well.
He's still a little stiff and a little raw but he had a 5.2 hang-time punt which is unbelievable. Very few guys in the country can do that. He out-punted Matt Darr and he out-punted Mike Sadler. Those are the top two guys that are here so I think he's got a real good shot at really becoming something after this camp.
The same article indicated that Russ had only begun punting some time after his sophomore season, so there is a possibility of improvement in that area, particularly as he works in the Texas strength and conditioning program and becomes stronger and, perhaps more importantly, more flexible. The hang time on his punts and the velocity with which the ball leaves his foot are strong indications of the ability to succeed at Texas and become an invaluable member of the team moving forward.