Experience at middle linebacker for FIU? Not much. Quality of play at middle linebacker? X marks the unknown spot. Communication from the middle linebacker spot? Guaranteed.
Just ask fifth-year senior Markeith Russell. Then settle in for the answer. Russell’s about as loquacious a player as there is on FIU’s roster.
Back at North Miami Beach High, Russell said, “I played running back, a little bit of tight end, I played defensive end, I played middle and outside linebacker. Where I really found my home is middle linebacker. I love guys responding to my voice, looking to me for answers. I’m always willing and able to help. I feel like middle linebacker is a great position for me because I get to help and control and communicate with both levels, in front of me with the d-line and behind me with the safeties.”
The past two seasons, Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt manned the middle of FIU’s linebacking corps, more successfully in 2011 than in 2012. FIU ran a defense with four or five down linemen, two linebackers and four or five in the secondary.
Now, a new scheme, much more of a 4-3 defense than FIU has run the past two seasons, puts the 6-0, 220-pound Russell in the middle with redshirt sophomore Luis Rosado and sophomore Davison Colimon at the outside linebacker spots. It’s a group with some speed, especially Colimon, a Class 2A state 110 high hurdles champion who came to FIU as a safety and was switched to outside linebacker last season.
Only Colimon saw playing. Both Rosado and Russell were redshirted last season. Russell played in all 13 games as a sophomore, starting two, and only eight as a junior in 2011.
But it was Russell who was thrust into the center of the defense and a leadership role. One of the leadership gaps on the 2012 FIU team was among the linebackers, who wound up underperforming while talented underclassmen seethed that they didn’t get the chance to play.
“Guys who have leadership qualities to them are going to lead,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “Russell is doing a good job of being a leader. I need a lot of guys to step up and be leaders.”
He is setting an academic example. Russell began graduate school over the summer. He has an internship as a consultant with Miami-Dade County Public Schools working with high school kids with learning disabilities and will work as a social coach this fall.
“In doing this, I have to talk to a lot of professionals that are way above my pay grade,” Russell said. “I love communicating, I love just talking to them, interacting and learning from their experience, because listening to wisdom of those older or above me, I gain a lot of knowledge. That’s one thing the coaches love about me.”