GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On Tuesday morning, Travis Russell was working from home in Grand Rapids, just like many other Michiganders during the current stay-at-home order.
For Russell, this is a different style of life. The former Ferris State football quarterback spent the last five years working out and prepping for the upcoming season. To go along with his schoolwork, Russell was focused on football and his goals with the team.
Now, the West Catholic graduate has transitioned his life into focusing on his job, working for Aon Corporation, which is a brokerage firm. Football has been more in the back of his mind.
Then, his phone started to buzz. The names appearing on his phone were not people he would normally individually text.
“People we’re saying congrats and I was like ‘thanks, but for what,’” Russell said laughing. “I opened a picture and started reading into it and was like wow. It was an honor to even be mentioned in the same category with a coach as legendary as John Wooden.”
Russell joined 27 other athletes around the nation to be named a semifinalist for the 2020 Wooden Citizenship Cup, given to the top athletic role models in the country. Russell joins three other athletes from Michigan (University of Michigan’s Ronald Amarteifio, Central Michigan’s Alexandria Robinson and Wayne State’s Adrianna Waack) to be nominated for the award.
This isn’t the first piece of hardware Russell has been up for recently. He was the recipient of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conferences Jack H. McAvoy Award, presented to the GLIAC’s football player who shows both outstanding leadership on the field, in the classroom and the community. The 6-foot-2 quarterback was also a nominee for the Campbell Trophy, awarded to the country’s top football scholar-athlete.
While Russell appreciates the praise he has been receiving and all of the recognition for his actions, it wouldn’t change him as a person if he didn’t receive any of it.
“There’s almost some irony to it with how many awards I’ve been nominated for when they are about service and being unselfish,” Russell said. “It seems like winning the award is about me. It is nice to be recognized about being a good person at the end of the day, but the bottom line is you get the most satisfaction and fulfillment in knowing you made a difference. I get a lot out of trying to help people and make their lives better.”
However, it wasn’t always easy to keep the positive mindset Russell has on a day-to-day basis with football.
In his five years with the football program, Russell was a proven winner, while doing it with character and grit. The right-handed quarterback had a record of 13-2 at Ferris State in the games he’s competed in.
However, in 2017, transfer quarterback Reggie Bell from Eastern Michigan took the starting job for the Bulldogs. After that season was complete, the door seemed to be wide open for Russell to step into the starters position. It was quickly slammed shut. Teammate Jayru Campbell, who transferred from Garden City Community College, would win the starting job over Russell and fellow quarterbacks on the Bulldogs roster.
Days after watching the Bulldogs fall in the 2018 national title game against Valdosta State on Dec. 15, Russell had a difficult decision — to stay with the Bulldogs with the voice of his own coach Tony Annese, saying it wasn’t his best chance to play, or play elsewhere as a graduate transfer.
This is where Russell’s attitude towards life shed the most light it had yet.
“I would always tell people if my ultimate goal was to play in the National Football League, to be fully honest with you, I would’ve transferred,” Russell said. “But my football dreams, my athletic dreams, the peak of those was being the quarterback of that football team, playing for a national championship.”
Russell’s choice to stay and those dreams came full circle in late October.
After an ankle injury to Campbell on Oct. 26, Russell was named the starter for the Anchor-Bone Classic against archrival Grand Valley State University. He led his team to a victory, which also secured the GLIAC Championship. He would go on to guide the Bulldogs in defeat over Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri to get to the national semifinal.
While FSU would fall 28-14 to West Florida and not reach the national title in 2019, Russell felt complete after his tenure was finished in Big Rapids.
“I look back and think I got everything out of football that I wanted,” Russell said. “I didn’t give up when the going got tough. I didn’t want to give up on my teammates and the guys I came in with.
“I didn’t realize it then, but I hope I approach the rest of my life that way.”
With the world in a national pandemic due to COVID-19, Russell, like many others, finds himself working from home. It’s an uncharted territory for someone who was an athlete at the Division II level.
Yet, he’s not letting that get him down. Right now, Russell believes is as important as ever to be positive.
“When things are really, really good, I look at both ends,” Russell said. “When things are down I never get to emotional or upset, but it’s the same thing if I were to be on cloud-nine and just won the lottery. I’d be the same consistent person and I think that’s really helped on positivity and optimism is I’m always focused on what’s next.
“I’m going to be a little bit better today than I was yesterday, but I’m not as good as I’m going to be tomorrow.”
Tomorrow won’t involve football or seeing clients at work for Russell, but it will hold that same attitude: Not giving up on what he believes in.