EVERETT — When most expected Mariner’s star running back KeiVarae Russell to simply put on a hat and let the crowd of about 100 know where he had decided to commit to play college football next year, Russell offered a twist of the dramatic.
The lights went dark in the Mariner High School gym and after a few seconds of silence, the Notre Dame fight song started playing. Even before the lights came back on, it was clear Russell had made his decision. Russell had chosen to attend Notre Dame over staying in the Puget Sound area and attending the University of Washington.
Russell said that beyond football, academics and family influence played a role in his decision.
“The prestige of Notre Dame and knowing that it has a 98 (percent) graduation rate, so I know I’m going to graduate from school at Notre Dame, I guarantee you,” Russell said. “The other 2 percent is like people going to the NFL and they are coming back to get their degree.”
Mariner football coach John Ondriezek said that Russell will be successful no matter what school he selected.
“All four of those schools are just great institutions,” Ondriezek said. “Great opportunities for KeiVarae and I know it was a decision that he sat down and made with his family. And as I said, KeiVarae will do well wherever he goes. We are just pleased for KeiVarae that he has this opportunity to go on to a great institution and have an opportunity to play Division 1 football. Both programs recruited him with class and we were extremely impressed with both coaching staffs.”
Russell seemed relieved to have finally declared his intentions, though he admitted to the crowd just before his announcement that the whole process has been fun.
“It’s kind of surreal right now,” Russell said. “I’m still thinking about it. I have been going through this for two years now and it feels like I have been uncommitted for a while. I thought I was going to be uncommitted until next week maybe, the next two weeks, but it feels crazy to be done.”
Now that the decision has been made, Russell said he can start to focus on the future.
“Now that I know what school I’m going to go to I can actually work towards that,” Russell said. “I can actually start getting a playbook from the school and talk to the school and see what my actual role in the school is and just get a better relationship with the team.”
Ondriezek said Russell’s work ethic, going along with his skill helped him to where he is.
“I’m just extremely pleased for KeiVarae because this isn’t just luck,” Ondriezek said. “He’s worked hard for this honor and it started as a freshman. You could see the athleticism, the size, the speed, the opportunities that he had and so we sat down and said these are some things that you need to do to have all of your possible options to go to school. And it’s not going to be easy.
“And he did all those things.”
Ondriezek said he could see Russell considering his family in the decision-making process.
“I think that they were involved in it,” Ondriezek said. “I know that he and his mom and his granddad and his brother they talked about it and they were a big part of it. And it was important for him that they felt comfortable and they agreed with his decision. It was a family decision.”
Russell said that family played perhaps the biggest role in his decision.”
“They played a big role,” Russell said. “My sophomore and junior year they didn’t play a role at all I kind of just took it all on by myself. I didn’t really want people involved with it my sophomore and junior year, but senior year for sure. First of all, my mom doesn’t like U-Dub at all, she told me she doesn’t want me to go there and that was a big influence in my life. My mom doesn’t want me to go to this school, I won’t feel comfortable going to a school my mom doesn’t want me to go to. But when Notre Dame came for my in-home visit she said, ‘That’s the spot where I want you to go.’”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.