In his past years at Penn, Mike Russo has learned what true love of the game really means. As a senior now, it will be difficult to say goodbye, as the Sprint Football team has become a second family. What Russo has learned on the field has translated into real life lessons and he has demonstrated what it means to be a team player.
“Football to me is the consummate team sport,” he said. “No matter how dominant one player might be, they won’t do much if everyone isn’t working together."
In his four years at Penn, Russo has developed both as a player and a team leader. As a linebacker, he was given opportunities to formulate defensive game plans with the coaches and his fellow defense.
“Coach Wagner really means it when he tells the team that it is our team.’ He wants the upperclassmen and captains to take responsibility and play a very active roll in developing and managing this team,” Russo said. “I had never fully understood what he meant by that phrase until faced with the responsibility of trying to help run the team along with coaches and other captains.”
As a team captain, Russo has had a strong effect on team morale and performance. The importance of team play and humility have been transferred onto the team through his leadership capabilities. The role of team captain, from Russo's perspective, is not an individual one but a function of the team dynamic.
“The other captains and I try to set the tone for everyone,” Russo said. “Adam Schlosser, Pat Monaghan, Doug Pires and I really tried to instill in the guys a greater sense of responsibility to both the program and each other.
“It was our job to keep a good tempo in practice, which was something we had varied success doing. I think we let the team down a little during the Cornell week when we couldn’t successfully get everyone, including ourselves, to fully respect the other team and not assume we were going to beat them.”
As an individual on a team, Russo sees not only room for improvement, but he also sets specific goals for himself. Individual performance is just as essential to team success as leadership is, and he has found the important link between his two responsibilities as a sprint football player.
“On a personal level, I wanted to try to become more active in an around the ball this year. I had been surrounded by some incredible talent coming into this year and I knew that I had to step it up more now that most of those players were gone," Russo said. “I wanted to make sure that I knew every opponent’s formation and play-calling tendencies so that I could put myself and my teammates in better position to make plays.”
Russo has made his appreciation for sprint football quite apparent. Prior to his final game, he has reflected on what makes his sport so great. The sprint football team has not only taught him lessons about team relationships and camaraderie, but also about individual success and strength.
“A cohesive group of underdogs can defeat a poorly integrated group of superstars. I think that is part of what make Sprint Football such a great sport,” he said. “Most of the men in the league were all some of the smallest players on their high school teams and played against guys who were twice their size. So when you band all of us together into a league of scrappy, fiery players who have always had to prove themselves to everyone else, I think you end up with one of the best brands of the football out there.
“We don't get any glory, we don’t have good practice times, but I think we have something that other teams can often lack, which is a pure unadulterated passion for the game.”
~Written by Stacey Siporin, C’05