Q&A with holder Tim Russell
What’s (Saturday) going to be like for you?
It’s going to be a lot of fun. It will be a shocker realizing this is my last game. I know it’s going to be hard on my mom, but it’s going to be a great time to go out with my class. Hopefully we get another win.
Who will be on the field with you before the game?
My dad, Tim, and my mom, Kathy, and then my three brothers, Kevin, Billy and Jack. So my whole family. My grandma might be there, too, but I’m not sure if she’s coming on the field or not.
What’s that going to be like?
It’s going to be really cool because my brother, Kevin, goes to the University of Texas. He only usually comes to one or two games a year, and I knew he wasn’t going to miss this one because it’s my last one. He’s home for Thanksgiving anyway, so it worked out really well.
How would you characterize your career at Illinois?
It’s been a lot of fun, first and foremost. A lot of ups and downs, but the good times have definitely outweighed the bad I think. A lot of memories out there on the field and on campus. A lot of good friendships that I’m going to take with me. It’s kind of surreal that it’s coming to an end.
What are you going to miss the most?
The locker room atmosphere and hanging out with all the guys and hanging out outside of football. That’s something I talk to the guys that are already out that have jobs. They say there’s some type of camaraderie, but it’s nothing close to being in the locker room and having guys on the team that become your best friends.
Take me back four years. What was your mind-set going into your freshman season?
Just kind of shock and awe. Being a walk-on and coming into a program that I had followed and being on the same team as Juice Williams and all those guys was cool. That summer everything was just going so fast. It has slowed down, but it hasn’t at the same time because it’s nearly over.
What was it like getting a scholarship this summer?
It was awesome. Coach had talked about it before, trying to find one for me. When it actually happened, it was awesome. I called my mom, and she started crying on the phone. It was a great moment because I was probably going to have to pay for this last semester on my own. I had the paperwork I needed for the loans all ready, so it was great to say, ‘Nope, I don’t need those anymore.’
Was the goal when you came here to be the holder?
No, but I don’t really know what I had in mind when I got here. As it happened, becoming friends with Derek Dimke and Zak Pedersen, who were the kicker and the long snapper, helped, and the need for a holder. Derek trusted me and felt comfortable with me doing that. The rest is history.
How much experience did you have as a holder before you came to Illinois?
None. I played quarterback (in high school), and I was the backup long snapper, which is a completely different role on special teams, but I had never held before. Maybe I did once in eighth-grade football, but it was brand new to me.
What’s the hardest part of holding?
Probably dealing with the kickers. Specialists in their own right are a different kind of people. It’s more of a mental game with them, but just comforting them and making sure they’re all good to go and having them trust you that you’ll get the job done so they don’t have to worry about what they need to do so they can just go kick.
Do Taylor Zalewski and Ryan Frain have any differences in how they want you to hold the ball?
Just slight variations. Derek was different, too, and Nick Immekus was different, too. They all like the ball held a little bit differently. For the most part, I hold just for Taylor, so it’s pretty much muscle memory in getting it just the right way so he’s not worrying about a little bit of a lean either way.
The holder in “Little Giants” has an unpleasant experience getting kicked in the groin. Have you ever worried about a similar experience?
No, but I have had my hand kicked before, and that’s not a pleasant feeling. It actually hurts a lot getting your fingers caught with the ball and someone’s foot.
When a fake field goal or fake extra point is called, what goes through your head?
There’s a little adrenaline rush knowing that’s what we’re going to do. I get excited and ready to do it because we practice them all the time, so I’m pretty confident in how well we perform them. Even though our defense knows it’s coming in practice, we can still beat them. When another defense comes and they have no idea what we’re going to do, it’s a lot easier because I know what my options are and what to do.
What would it mean for you to pull off another successful fake against Northwestern?
I know we’ll have at least one or two in the game plan. I hope I get an opportunity to throw one. It would be great to score in the last game here, but if not, that’ll be because we don’t need to.
A highlight of Camp Rantoul is seeing you throw punts during practice. How long can you throw the ball in the air?
I can throw it about 65 or 70 yards in the air on a good day if my arm is good and warm. With a little bit of wind, I’ve hit 75 yards before. I always have fun throwing from the ‘I’ in the middle of Memorial Stadium and trying to hit the crossbar in the air. I’ve probably done it about 10 or 12 times.
Have you ever petitioned the coaches to get in there for a snap at quarterback?
I joke with them all the time. Nate (Scheelhaase) knows that over the last five years. There’s a couple of times where the coaches have asked me about playing quarterback and why aren’t you still playing quarterback. I always say, ‘Well, when I got here, there were nine quarterbacks on the roster. They didn’t need me to be a quarterback.’ I like throwing the ball as a holder. It still gives me that opportunity.
Who were some of your favorite Illinois players to watch growing up?
When I was younger and Kurt Kittner was the quarterback, that was big. That’s when I was just starting to play football, and I remember watching him all the time. Then there were a few down years, but I remember watching Juice in high school, and that was always cool to see him play here. I played basketball growing up, and Dee Brown, Deron Williams and those guys were pretty cool to watch.
Who’s the best basketball player on the football team?
That’s a tough question because guys never really get to go out and play. Steve Hull’s pretty good. I know there’s guys on the team that talk a big game, but I’ve never actually seen them perform. I would like to go out and play with them sometimes, but I haven’t because of injury prevention.
You graduate in December. What’s the future hold for you?
I’m working on it right now. It’s a work in progress. That’s also the big shock that’s coming. Only two weeks ago is when I finally got all the paperwork in for graduation and got that monkey off my back. My mom’s worrying less about that and my dad’s worrying more about what I’m going to do and where I’m going to find a job. That’s definitely something that’s been weighing on my mind all semester.
What do you want to do?
That’s the other problem. I’m trying to figure that out exactly.
Your major is technical systems management. What can you do with that degree?
It’s in the ACES college, so it’s based in agriculture, but it’s business and management for engineers. A lot of guys go work for Caterpillar, John Deere, ADM or Cargill. I don’t really want to go on the ag side of things, so I’ll probably be looking at an operations management or a technology management position in some sort of company.
What about holding for an NFL team?
That’d be a great job to have. I could do that. I’d be living the life. That would be awesome, but it’s not realistic.
What are you going to miss most about campus?
Being close to everyone and being in one area where you know your friends are a couple blocks away or you could walk to the rec center or walk down to main street. It’s a close-knit thing.
What are you going to miss most about Memorial Stadium?
Not the bleachers because we ran those for three summers. The game-day atmosphere. I went out there a couple times in the summer or when we’d have a day off, I’d go into the stadium and play catch with one of my teammates where it’s quiet.
Your girlfriend is OK if you answer this. Who is your dream date?
I don’t have a girlfriend, so I’m good there. I’d probably say Blake Lively. She’s hot. She’s cool. I’ve heard she has an awesome personality.
A night on the town with Blake Lively or beating Northwestern and completing a fake field goal pass?
I would take going out with a win and throw for a fake two-point conversion or touchdown. The feeling after you win is awesome. Beating Northwestern is always fun. We had the Wrigley game and the game where we were down 18 and came back and won. Those were just two awesome moments and probably two of my highlights of me playing here.