After a sophomore season that proved his ability as well as durability, Tyler Russell headed into his junior year at Abbott with experience and confidence.
But even with high personal and team goals, few saw the production possibilities Russell could have.
This year’s Super Centex Six-Man Player of the Year racked up 2,816 yards and 46 touchdowns while leading the Panthers to an 11-3 record and a state semifinal appearance.
“This year, (Russell) had a lot more drive,” Abbott coach Terry Crawford said. “He was comfortable in the system. He was comfortable with his role. In six-man, there is no replacement for speed, and Tyler was our speed guy. Our line did a great job of getting holes, and Tyler hit the holes and was gone.”
Russell knew his role would increase this year, but he had no idea the success he would have.
“I knew I was going to get to run the ball, but I didn’t think I wiould have as many yards as I did.” Russell said. “I just wanted to get out there and play. I wanted to set a standard of winning all year. Just so happened that I carried the ball a lot.”
Russell was also important to the Panther defense. With scoring rampant in the six-man ranks, defensive stops are nearly as important as offensive touchdowns. Russell was third on the team with 88 tackles while intercepting three passes and recovering seven fumbles. The junior returned two takeaways for scores.
While his defensive abilities were an asset, it was his playmaking ability with the ball that made him so dangerous.
What makes Russell’s season totals more incredible is that they came after sitting out the team’s opener for disciplinary reasons.
He returned to the field with fury, scoring four times while carrying the ball 22 times for 288 yards in 76-64 win over Milford.
The Panthers continued to win over the next few weeks, but Russell’s numbers were not extraordinary before a season low in a 52-6 loss to Austin Hill Country on Oct. 7. Russell was held to 71 yards and kept out of the end zone for the only time this season.
Russell and the Panthers overcame the hurdle. The back dominated the remainder of the season and was at his best during district and throughout the team’s playoff run, culminating with one of the greatest performances in school history.
In Abbott’s quarterfinal 118-100 playoff win over Lometa, Russell rushed for 573 yards on 30 carries and scored 10 touchdowns.
“I just try to read the defense and see where the hole is going to be,” Russell said. “I want to follow my blocks and score a touchdown every time I get the ball.
Russell also said he owes all his success to his teammates.
“I try to keep driving, stay on my feet and keep running,” he said. “My teammates do such a good job opening holes, I just don’t want to let them down.”
Russell’s postseason totals were as impressive as they come. A first-half knee injury limited his role in the Panthers’ state semifinal loss to Throckmorton, but the junior had 1,423 yards on 82 carries with 21 touchdowns in four playoff games.
When asked about next season, Russell and Crawford had the same goal for the running back: Be the guy that leads Abbott to that state title.
Coach of the Year
Terry Crawford Abbott
Winning football games has become a tradition at Abbott for coach Terry Crawford.
The Panthers have had just two losing seasons under Crawford since returning to six-man competition in 1998 and have posted double-digit wins seven times, along with three state semifinal appearances.
The Super Centex Six-man Coach of the Year calls this season “one of his most enjoyable” and “refreshing” as the Panthers went 11-3 with a state semifinal appearance and were possibly an injury away from a state title opportunity.
“In the past, we’ve probably had some more talented teams,” Crawford said. “This team didn’t neccesarily have extreme talent, but they reached their full potential and it was extremely satisfying as a coach.”
The Panthers started the season 6-0, but Crawford saw flaws on both sides of the ball. It took a 52-6 loss to Austin Hill Country to shake things up.
Hill Country “came in here and exposed all the things we needed to fix,” Crawford said. “I think it kind of woke us up a little bit.”
Crawford said players began to be more receptive to what the coaches were telling them and coaches began to make adjustments as well to fit the strengths of the team.
The Panthers rebounded by winning three of their final four games. Better point differential gave Abbott the first seed out a three-way tie for first place in District 14 Division I.
On the strength of its rushing attack, Abbott’s offense rolled through its first two playoff opponents by a combined 139-46, setting up a quarterfinal to remember.
The Panthers defeated Lometa, 118-100, in an offensive showdown. Crawford had experienced one similar game when the Panthers lost the 2008 state semifinal game to Strawn, 102-70.
The Panthers’ season came to an end a week later as the Panthers fell to Throckmorton, 78-52, a game in which Abbott battled blow for blow with the eventual state champion without their leading rusher for most of the game.
“I figured the semifinals would be someone and Throckmorton,” Crawford said. “In order for us to get to the semifinals, we were going to have to reach our max potential. We were going to have to play as good as we possibly could. And we achieved that. From a coaching standpoint, that’s the ultimate satisfaction.”
Player of the Year: Tyler Russell, Abbott
Coach of the Year: Terry Crawford, Abbott
|WR||Michael Fulbright||Sr||5-11||175||Live Oak|
|LB||David Moffatt||Sr||6-1||205||Live Oak|
|RB||Nate Walsh||Sr||6-0||165||Cranfills Gap|
|QB||Tyler Williams||Sr||5-10||190||Live Oak|
|Jake Brown, Abbott; Justin Ince, Aquilla; Ryan Haley, Cranfills Gap; Ryan Wilson, Iredell; Jimmy Bradshaw, Tyler Wise and Sean Hill, Jonesboro; Melvin Jones, Penelope; Austin Rose, Ryan Engelhardt, Dillon Rose, Dylan Cook and Zach Trotter, Walnut Springs|
District MVP on defense helped Eagles go unbeaten in regular season with 98 tackles, 2 INTs.
Jack of all trades threw for 17 TDs, ran for 13 more; also forced 7 fumbles, picked off 5 passes.
Sr, Live Oak
Equally adept running and catching, had 940 receiving yards, 18 TDs, to go with 796 rushing yards, 18 scores.
Sr, Live Oak
Defensive leader for TCAL state champion used his nose for the ball to compile 109 stops.
Devastating blocker paved way for ball carriers to post huge numbers, also caught 10 TD passes.
Oversaw team that steadily improved throughout season, made state semis for 3rd time in 9 years.