Photo above: Bryan Russ
by Sheldon Ocker
Given the assigned task of developing a teenager’s athletic skills and mental toughness, a high school football coach often gets to know more about his players than anyone outside their families.
Nordonia head football coach Jeff Fox has not only tutored Cooper Rusk and Bryan Russ for their entire high school careers; he has known the two seniors for most of their lives.
“Bryan’s always been around football,’’ Fox said. “His father, Bernard, is on our coaching staff. Bryan was a ball boy for us in 2013. You knew he’d be a tough kid and a quality player. I remember Cooper coming to our youth camp. His younger brother Tucker will be a three-year starter for us next season. So these definitely are kids that we recognized early.’’
In addition to playing key roles in Nordonia’s success (10-3 last year), Russ and Rusk continue to reap individual rewards. Both players were selected to play in the annual North-South Classic at Massillon High School’s Paul Brown Stadium on April 30.
To make a roster, a player must be nominated by his coach then named to the team by the coaching staff of each squad. The game is sponsored by the Ohio Coaches Association, whose members pick the coaching staff.
“I know a bunch of guys on the [North] team,’’ said Rusk, a wide receiver. “My parents just think it’s a really cool thing, a good way to wrap up my high school career.’’
Last season, Rusk caught 84 passes for 1,000 yards, an average of 11.9 yards per catch. In addition to catching nine touchdown passes, he had four carries from scrimmage for 35 yards and one touchdown.
Russ played on both sides of the ball but mostly logged time at safety, making four interceptions. He also was used as a running back, gaining 748 yards on 141 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns. In addition, he caught 15 passes for 205 yards.
“They are really hard workers who are dedicated to their craft,’’ Fox said. “They’ve worked hard in the weight room and on their skills. I’m happy for them to get this fun reward of playing in this all-star game.’’
How did Rusk view the opportunity to showcase his skills in the North-South Classic?
“It might not even be the game as much as hanging out with the guys on the team,’’ he said. “I think I know all the receivers on the team except maybe two.’’
Russ was born into a football family. His father, Bernard, played at West Virginia University before making the jump to the National Football League for three years as a member of the New England Patriots. He also played briefly in the Canadian Football League and the short-lived XFL. Russ’s older brother, Bernard Jr., played linebacker at Kent State University.
“My mother ran track and played basketball and likes to brag about it a lot,’’ Rusk said, smiling.
What will he miss most now that his football days at Nordonia are over?
“Probably just the camaraderie you have with people you grew up with,’’ Rusk said. “These are guys I’ve known since I was 10.’’
Russ echoed his teammate’s sentiments, saying, “Probably the people. This is like a family, the relationships we have.’’ ∞