END Of The Line

Maple Grove’s Russo Shining During First Year At DE

Maple Grove’s Carter Russo (73) was named the Section VI Class D Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches. P-J file photo by Scott Reagle

A year ago, Carter Russo was a man without a position.

As a junior, Russo moved all over the field for Maple Grove, playing a backup role on a studded defense highlighted by seniors Trevor Micek, Brandon Reagle, Michael Derby, Logan Fain and Alex Lai just to name a few.

The 2016 defense was so talented that the Red Dragons’ current leader in tackles, senior linebacker Zak Trim, played on the defensive line.

But 2017 has been a new season and a new experience for Russo.

Locked in at his defensive end position, Russo has helped lead a defense that has allowed 144 points in 11 games. The 10-1 Red Dragons take an eight-game winning streak into Friday afternoon’s 4 p.m. New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D semifinal against Section IV champion Tioga at Union-Endicott High School.

Maple Grove’s Carter Russo (73) is second on the Red Dragons with 90 tackles and 5¢ sacks on the season as they enter Friday’s 4 p.m. NYSPHSAA Class D state semifinal against Tioga at Union-Endicott High School. P-J file photo by Scott Reagle

“We didn’t need him last year so we put him everywhere. No way did we expect him to be where he is right now,” Maple Grove defensive coordinator Dan Greco said Tuesday evening after the Red Dragons’ practice at Strider Field in Jamestown. “It didn’t come easy for him. We knew we had to play him. All he does is look at you and say ‘coach me, coach me.’ The light went on. He saw what he was doing. … He took off with it.”

For his part, Russo has had a stellar season. His 90 tackles rank second on the Red Dragons to Trim while his 5¢ sacks are second on the team to fellow defensive end Truman Purslow.

“He’s been amazing. He got so many compliments from other coaches because of the things he did from the defensive end,” Maple Grove head coach Curt Fischer said. ” … He’s just a great kid. I’m really happy for him because he’s gone above and beyond what we ever thought he could do.”

Class D coaches across Section VI took notice too, naming Russo the league’s Defensive Player of the Year when their all-star team was released recently.

“Carter just destroyed a couple of offensive philosophies,” Greco said. ” … Carter is a great addition to what we are doing.”

Maple Grove’s Carter Russo (73) is second on the Red Dragons with 90 tackles and 5¢ sacks on the season as they enter Friday’s 4 p.m. NYSPHSAA Class D state semifinal against Tioga at Union-Endicott High School. P-J file photo by Scott Reagle

Committed to being the best player he could be for his senior season, Russo opened the season with an eight-tackle, one-sack performance in a 40-0 win over Gowanda/Pine Valley.

“Ever since February we’ve been working in the gym and taking runs on Sunday nights,” Russo said Tuesday. “We would go to football camps, just anything to get ready because we know what we have to do.”

After a six-tackle performance in a 34-6 win over Salamanca, Russo had nine tackles and a half-sack in the Red Dragons’ only loss of the season, a 26-6 defeat at the hands of Franklinville/Ellicottville.

“Tremendous improvement,” Greco said of Russo’s play from 2016 to this season. “It’s all due to the fact that the kid is extremely coachable. He wants to learn. He takes whatever constructive criticism you give him, he takes it and he tries to ask questions all the time. … He’s got an attitude and motor that doesn’t stop. He gets down the line of scrimmage. … He has the makeup to do that.”

Russo finished the season with 27 tackles and a fumble recovery over the final four games as Maple Grove outscored its opponents, 148-28, to lock up the No. 2 seed in the Section VI playoffs.

“He’s just so smart,” Fischer said. “He takes great angles and plays the game smart with angles.”

In the Class D quarterfinals, Russo had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery as the Red Dragons pulled away from Randolph/Frewsburg after halftime in a 40-21 victory.

“It’s being smart and doing what he’s told. He’s so good about that,” Greco said. “Sometimes you get kids that don’t understand or don’t think that’s the right thing to do and they do something else. Carter just looks you in the eye and says ‘tell me what you want me to do.’ That’s what he does.”

The senior’s biggest play of the season came in the sectional semifinals. Leading Clymer/Sherman/Panama, 14-0, in the third quarter, Russo sacked quarterback Gerrit Hinsdale, forced a fumble, then picked up the loose ball and returned it to the end zone for a touchdown to go up 20-0.

“Sometimes they can be game changers,” Russo said of his semifinal touchdown. “It’s an amazing feeling when you feel the quarterback in your arms and you bring him down to the ground.”

The Wolfpack would rally, scoring the next two touchdowns to pull within a score, but Russo’s 10-tackle, three-sack performance was too much for Clymer/Sherman/Panama to overcome.

In the Section VI championship game and last week’s Far West Regional win, Russo combined for 20 tackles and a sack to push Maple Grove into the state semifinals for the second straight season.

One more win would possibly give the Red Dragons another shot at Cambridge, which tore Russo and his teammates’ hearts out a season ago when a 2-point conversion in double-overtime gave the state championship to the Indians on the game’s final play.

“It would mean everything for it to be against Cambridge. There would be a revenge thing,” Russo said. “We’d be back like nobody said we could.”