Brull working to change the mentality at Russell

Artwork by Joe Wachter,
By: Conor Nicholl for
Sep 20, 2017

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Fourth-year Russell coach Jeff Brull has worked to improve the mental attitude of the Broncos, a program that has not made the playoffs since 2006 and had just 11 victories from ’11-16. Brull helped start a leadership council four years ago.

He took the CORE belief system from an Indiana high school. C stands for Character/Commitment, O is Ownership/Optimism, R for Responsibility/Resiliency and E for Effort/Enthusiasm.

Back in May, Brull brought out another program hallmark: “Your best is the standard.”

“What’s your best commitment look like, what’s your best optimism look like, what’s your best effort look like,” Brull said. “If you gauge everything by your best, then it’s easy to call kids out on not doing things, and that’s kind of what our leaders have been able to do. Hey, if it’s not your best, it’s not up to what we need.”

The mentality has sparked a change for Russell, one of several early season teams to experience a turnaround. The Broncos lost 36-6 at Ellsworth before a 49-7 home win against Sacred Heart and a big 28-27 road victory versus Southeast of Saline last Friday. Russell has already matched its win total from last year.

The Sacred Heart victory ended a four-game Bronco losing streak in the series and just the second win in the last 10 meetings. Russell had lost 60-12, 61-0, and 41-0 in the last three years. Russell finished with just 80 yards in the season opener and 416 in Week 2.

“That’s really what happened with our first win,” Brull, a Victoria graduate who started on the 2004 Knight state title team, said. “We had to take a look at ourselves in the mirror, and own up to what we did wrong and what we needed to do better and just kind of move forward.”

The victory over Southeast of Saline ended a nine-game losing skid in the series and halted the Trojans’ 11-game North Central Activities Association winning streak. None of the last six series meetings had been within 20 points.

Russell, which plays in Class 3A District 14 with Thomas More Prep, Norton and Phillipsburg, has a strong chance for its first winning season and conference crown in more than a decade. The leadership committee met several times and broke down the values and expectations with information from the nationally renowned Jeff Janssen Sports Leadership Center.

The council is voted on with criteria that includes being eligible the entire previous year for all sports, in a weights class, and on the team the last season with good standing. This fall, it’s nine players, all seniors and juniors.

“The accountability factor has really kind of been something to those core values,” Brull said. “This is the first year that we have started that particular set, and really it’s just more defining what our core values were, and what they look like.”

All three victories, especially Southeast of Saline, highlighted Russell’s ability to force turnovers and show an improved defense. The Broncos are plus-eight in turnover margin. Southeast of Saline, despite a 373-185 yardage edge, had four turnovers to Russell’s zero.

Each day, Russell has at least one drill that has to do with a turnover. Last year, Russell had just 10 turnovers forced and was minus-4 in turnover margin. The Broncos had no defensive/special teams scores in the last two years.

Last Friday, Russell came back from 13-0 after the first and 19-14 at halftime. Travis Tammen returned a fumble 25 yards for a score.

Against Sacred Heart, junior Austin Price recorded a 12-yard pick-six. Versus Ellsworth, junior Kyler Fritschen recorded a pick-six. Russell’s defense has permitted just 22.7 points a contest. From ’11-16, Russell allowed between 32 and 46.7 points a game each year.

Brull complimented the defensive line with juniors Tammen, Glen Law and Garrett Davis. Tammen is a returning starter. He and Law combined for 8.5 tackles for loss in the first two weeks.

Davis has never previously started on a team at any level but has given strong effort and played well.  The linebackers have improved, and senior Brooks Nichols is a returning starter.

“We want the kids to think about taking the ball away,” Brull said. “And this is something that we really kind of hit home with this year, because we haven’t had good defenses in the past, and it’s really kind of let us down. We can throw a defense out there, and we can win a game. You can stop people from scoring on defense, and you can score on defense – that’s really what we’ve been driving. Hey, let’s win a game just with our defense if we have to.”

In the last several years, Russell has produced solid quarterback play with Reshean Holloway to Alex Windholz to Price. He has thrown for 122 yards and rushed 48 times for 332 yards. Senior Isaac Guzman, Law and sophomore Rhett Pospichal have shared carries.

Senior kicker Garrett Ewers, a three-year starter, is 11 of 11 on extra points in the last two games. Brull has helped raise the overall number of players in the program. Russell has 34 out and had just 25 as recently as 2012.

“You want to give them a good atmosphere, and that’s really what I try to do, and all of our coaches try to do is give us a good atmosphere,” Brull said. “That kids feel like it doesn’t matter if I am the stud. It doesn’t matter if I am the dud, I am going to get just as much attention from these coaches as anybody else – and I am going to get coached.”

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