For the first time since his senior year at Archbishop Wood, Anthony Russo is entering a season with an extra bounce in his step.
This is the first time since his Philadelphia Catholic League heyday that Russo, Temple’s redshirt junior quarterback, enters a season as the returning starter.
While both Russo and first-year Owls coach Rod Carey suggest that his spot isn’t assured, it would be a surprise if the player who ended last season as Temple’s starter doesn’t begin the Aug. 31 home opener against Bucknell in the same spot.
For someone who redshirted his freshman year and didn’t attempt a pass as a redshirt freshman, the chance to get on the field last year and produce was something that Russo both dreamed about and expected. When starter Frank Nutile was injured and couldn’t play in the third game, Russo stepped in and engineered a 35-14 win at Maryland that turned around the Owls’ season after they entered the game 0-2.
Temple went on to finish 8-5, and Russo started every game afterward except for a 57-7 rout against overmatched UConn, which he sat out because of a hand injury.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Russo insists he always prepares the same way for a season, but this one is different in that everywhere he walks, he is known as the starting quarterback.
“It is definitely a different dynamic and feels so different from last summer, but this what you dream of and what you wish for, to be able to walk about and be noticed as the quarterback,” Russo said Thursday. “Having that eye on my head is something I always worked for, and now that I have it, I don’t want to let anyone take it from me.”
Russo also understands the responsibility that comes with being a starting quarterback, both on and off the field.
“The quarterback is always under a microscope,” he said. “Whether it is in the [football] facility, out on the street, on campus, the spotlight is always on me and I have to be on my A game, no matter whether I am on or off the field.”
He takes seriously the responsibility of being the starting quarterback entering a season, and fondly recalls how it felt the last time, while starring at Archbishop Wood.
In fact, it was before his senior season in high school that Russo’s confidence received a major boost. He was named among the Elite 11 quarterbacks after competing at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Thirty quarterbacks made the competition and in the end, Russo was named the No. 4 quarterback. That class included Dwayne Haskins, the Ohio State QB who was drafted 15th overall by the Washington Redskins in April.
Back then, Russo was committed to Rutgers, but he eventually withdrew that commitment and chose Temple.
“Seeing those top-ranked guys in the country going to all the big schools and I saw I could throw with them really built my confidence so much,” Russo said. “I was doing the same stuff they were.”
Russo said he didn’t receive any additional college offers after that, but his performance gave him a great feeling entering his final high school season.
Now, he has that feeling again after completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,563 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
He says one of his goals is to cut down the interceptions. Russo has one of the stronger arms in the country, and that at times that can be a curse because he feels he can make any throw, even in the tightest of windows.
Russo says there are people in his own quarterback room more than capable of playing if he stumbles. Right now, redshirt sophomore Todd Centeio, a dual threat, appears to be the backup.
“We have a great quarterback room, and everybody is pushing each other,” Russo said.
That said, he is the returning starter and is expected to not only retain his spot but also to boost his resume for the next level.
Unlike many who aren’t candid when asked, Russo said he indeed thinks of playing in the NFL.
“I absolutely do think about it,” he said. “I have thought about it since I was 5 years old.”
Russo, who is expected to earn his degree in advertising this December, won’t be consumed by the thought of professional football. He says his main goal is to help Temple win the American Athletic Conference title.
The Owls were picked to finish fourth in the six-team AAC East Division during the preseason media poll, but Russo doesn’t care.
He has the same deep belief in his teammates that he does in himself, which at this point is immense. Nothing less should be expected from the starting quarterback.