By SHARON GINN, Times Staff Writer
B-CC quarterback Jimmie Russell, once off the team temporarily, is back to baffling defenses.
Jimmie Russell was one of the heroes of last year's Florida Classic, and as a freshman it seemed he'd have many more chances to lead Bethune-Cookman against its biggest rival. Six months later, Russell wasn't so sure.
He was off the team, out of school, hunkered down in his hometown of Jonesboro, Ga., with no idea what to do or what was coming next.
The quarterback who had been celebrated for coming in off the bench and rolling up 426 yards in sparking his team to victory over Florida A&M was "basically in a state of depression," he said.
Russell had been accused, along with two other star football players, of involvement in an on-campus fight at a school dance in March. He says that he was not involved in the fight, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was singled out only because he and the others had been recognized as high-profile athletes.
Russell, receiver Eric Weems and defensive back/kick returner Ricky Williams were suspended immediately for up to one year. They were required to leave campus and spring practices but were allowed to complete schoolwork at home while awaiting their fate.
After a long, confusing summer, Russell learned in August that he and the other players could rejoin the team. Russell, who entered the season as one of three potential starters at quarterback, first apologized to the team for the disruption. Then he got to work.
By Game 2 he was finally eligible to play. By Game 3, the job was his.
"He came in and did a great job of running the Wyattbone (offense) to perfection almost," junior receiver Jonathan Summers said. "He's basically taken over.
"Jimmie, he's like 007 - "never say die.' He won't even make mistakes. ... You can yell at him, but he's calm and always smiling. Even when he's mad he's smiling. He always keeps his composure and that's what makes him a good quarterback."
Russell beat out sixth-year senior Lawrence McCloud and sophomore Jarod Rucker by showing he could effectively pitch, run and pass - all requirements of the Wyattbone. With him behind center, B-CC (7-3, 4-3) has had the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's top scoring offense, 36.1 points a game.
This season, Russell is third in the MEAC in total offense (176.7 yards a game), and three times has been named the league's offensive player of the week.
Even being out for so many months, "we didn't lose the rhythm," Russell said. "The offense really is based on reads, numbers and angles. It wasn't hard to get back into the swing of things. The option was the easy part."
What's harder is what happens when he gets rid of the ball. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder is too small for Wyatt's tastes, and admits feeling a bit battered from the weekly beatings. The pressure got to him in B-CC's 24-10 loss to Division I-AA No. 2 Hampton two weeks ago. The Pirates sacked him twice in the second half and spend the rest of the time chasing him out of the pocket.
"Jimmie can get the job done," Wyatt said, but wants to see more from him if B-CC is to go back to competing for MEAC titles. "He's a little frail. ... We need to put some more weight on Jimmie. This is the time that (former B-CC star) Allen (Suber) really put on his weight. We're looking for Jimmie to come back next year bigger."
Russell may be on the small side, but he's a more confident player than the one who came in for Rucker in the third series against FAMU a year ago with the Wildcats trailing 13-0. About all he can remember is that he somehow helped spark his team, down 45-24 in the third quarter, to a 58-52 overtime victory, scoring the touchdown that tied it up at the end of regulation.
Everything else was going "a million miles an hour," he said. This time, Russell said, he will be able to savor - and appreciate - it more, especially after months of worrying that his football career was over.
"I'm a totally different player," he said. "The game slows down for you when you're a little more experienced. I know now that there's a whole bunch of stuff that goes along with (the Florida Classic). It's bragging rights for a whole year. ... I'm way more prepared, the team is way more prepared. We've got the rhythm down with each other."