The days were long, hot and exhausting but Temple’s Anthony Russo wouldn’t take no for an answer. So after an entire day of physical labor in the form of landscaping — mulching, mowing lawns, cutting down trees, often in the blazing heat — Russo would cap things off by performing his favorite task: throwing a football.
The passes, full of zip from the redshirt senior quarterback, were caught by his boss Pat Carroll.
And while Russo has seen his game dissected by coaches, teammates and opponents, few know it better than his boss.
Then again, Carroll and Russo have a relationship that goes well beyond him becoming a boss and Russo becoming the starting quarterback in 2018 at Temple.
Carroll, 22, was Russo’s teammate at Archbishop Wood, a starting defensive end and backup tight end. These days he is the owner of Carroll Landscaping in Doylestown, where both Carroll and Russo live.
Over the previous few summers, Russo would get about three weeks off from Temple football activities and would help his friend do landscaping. Carroll has been in business for three years.
This year because of the pandemic, Russo worked in April, May, and half of June and it was real work.
“Working long days in the sun really helped me cut my weight,” Russo said. “I am down about 23 pounds.”
At 6-foot-4, he says he now weighs 230 pounds.
When he returned for team workouts in the summer, Russo says he could see the benefits of his long days working outside. “I came back in good shape from the physical labor of landscaping,” he said.
Before getting a scouting report on Russo as a quarterback, what about as a landscaper?
“I’d give him a 9.8 [on a scale of 10] as a worker,” Carroll said. “He would be lugging barrels of mulch, weeding, edging, all of that.”
In other words, work that isn’t exactly fun. But after work would be the fun part, at least for Russo.
The two would often head to a field and the footballs would be flying.
Even when Carroll wouldn’t want to catch passes, he didn’t tell that to his employee/quarterback.
“Some days toward the end of the week, I’d be tired, but he always wanted to throw,” Carroll said. “He is a hard thrower and always had the strength no matter how much he worked all day or all week.”
Russo, 22, has always had a rifle arm, his strongest trait. This will be his third season as Temple’s starting quarterback. Last season he completed 58% of his passes for 2,861 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for the 8-5 Owls.
Russo did more than just throw the football during his time away from the team once COVID-19 hit.
“I had a lot of free time and watched every one of LSU’s games last year, made cutups of their offense and watched [former quarterback] Joe Burrow and the way the receivers ran certain routes and the way they called plays,” Russo said. “This benefited me a lot.”
He even sent clips to his Temple teammates and coaches and says some of it has been implemented into the offense.
This is a big year for Russo, who took over as starter during the third game of the 2018 season when Frank Nutile was injured. Russo never relinquished the position even when Nutile returned to health. Even though he is a redshirt senior, this may not be the end for Russo.
That’s because the NCAA has ruled that this is an eligibility-free year for players. So if a player is a redshirt senior as Russo is, he can return next season and again be a redshirt senior.
He has earned his degree in advertising, but instead of graduate school, Russo is looking toward earning his education certificate.
“Teaching and coaching has been a dream of mine,” he said.
And so has playing.
Like any player, Russo, who turns 23 in December, would love to give the NFL a shot but feels that he can use more seasoning.
“I have talked to a few people [about the NFL] and right now it is in my best interest to come back [to Temple],” Russo said. “I plan to come back next year, because I can only get better and I love playing with these guys,"
He understands that things could change, so Russo isn’t looking too far in the future. What is of immediate importance is Temple’s abbreviated eight-game American Athletic Conference season that begins Oct. 10 at Navy.
“Personally, I can’t wait,” Russo said. “I wish I was playing tomorrow.”
His boss can’t wait, either. Carroll is a diehard Temple fan and has even seen the team play on the road over the last few years, including last year’s Military Bowl, where the Owls lost to North Carolina at the same Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium where they will open their season’s schedule.
Carroll is glad that Temple is back practicing, but …
“It’s great that he is back preparing for the season, but it was great when he was working for me,” Carroll said. “Besides being a great friend, he is a really great worker.”