Putting away No. 5… Elizabethton recognizes Russell’s contribution by retiring jersey

Published 6:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2019




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The career football numbers are staggering—almost 8,000 total yards of offense with 94 touchdowns. The classroom scores are just as impressive with a 3.95 GPA and scoring 24 on the ACT.

The most impressive attributes were not what showed up numerical for Elizabethton graduate Corey Russell—it was the way he handled his relationships with his teammates, his teachers, the student body and the Elizabethton community as a whole.

For his accomplishments both on and off the field, Elizabethton Cyclone head football coach Shawn Witten and the Elizabethton City School Board showered one final accolade on Russell as his number five jersey was retired to be worn no more.

“We had this planned a couple of times and just couldn’t get it scheduled out,” Witten stated when addressing those in attendance at the school board meeting on Tuesday evening.

“As you go through your programs and have different kids come through, certain kids who come through your program that are game-changers and certain kids that are program changers and that’s what happened at the end of Corey’s four years and the 90 games he played.

“It’s not about what you do on the field, it’s about what you do off the field with your character and community and everything we want our young men to be about,” Witten continued.

“Every time Corey stepped on the field, it wasn’t his ability to be the best player. He was prepared to be the best player and he was prepared to be the toughest player.”

Russell was not only a household name in Elizabethton and Carter County but was know throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia and beyond.

With his play-making ability, Russell was a threat every time the ball was in his hands either as a running back, quarterback, wide receiver, punter, kickoff returner, or punt returner to take it the distance in dazzling style.

Even on defense, Russell was a thorn in the flesh of many offensive coordinators picking off several passes during his career.

He will be remembered for his toughness even playing in spite of injury.

“Even though Corey had a devastating injury in his last game, to me it signifies the type of player he was for us,” Witten said. “They were literal going to have to drag him off the field.

“When I think about the night that took place, I don’t think he would want it any other way. He was going to go out playing the way he knew how to play.”

Witten shared with those in attendance about a conversation he had with a young Russell who had just come into Elizabethton as a freshman.

“Corey and I had a conversation his freshman year walking into the basketball gym one day and I had the same conversation with him that my granddad had with me,” Witten commented.

“It was about being one of the best. It wasn’t about being one of the best football player or best quarterback. It was about being one of the best—no matter if it was football, baseball, or basketball.

“I have a six-year-old boy and there is a lot of people that you may want your boy to follow in certain people’s footsteps, but I want my boy to be Corey Russell,” Witten continued. “If my boy can simulate half of what Corey Russell is, then my boy is going to be successful.

“Everybody can relate to this man’s size and if my boy grows up to be 5’10 or 5’11, I hope he plays as hard as Corey Russell plays.”

Witten added that Russell had a way of bringing people to games who usually wouldn’t even care about football saying, “What makes Corey Russell special, honestly, he changed the way people came to the football games. People didn’t know and didn’t care just wanted to see him play.

“They wanted to put a face with a name and wanted to be there to experience the feelings he made you feel when you went to the game. It’s a feeling like nothing else. His enthusiasm is contagious.

“He challenged me personally to go out and find ways to be a better coach. He wanted me to coach him the way if he was going to play at UT or wherever.

“We are excited that he came through Elizabethton High School.”

Russell will continue his football and baseball career as a Colonel at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.