The resurrected Columbus Destroyers open the season this Saturday night on the road against the Albany Empire (7 pm broadcast on CD102.5), but Destroyers’ head coach Matt Sauk isn’t letting on who will be under center and their starting quarterback could be a game-day decision.

“We’ll name a starter when we line up for the first play of the game,” said Sauk, who himself played quarterback for Utah State and in the Arena Football League (AFL).

The Destroyers have two quarterbacks in camp at the Bo Jackson Dome in Hilliard. Rookie Grant Russell from Newark, Ohio, and 36-year-old AFL veteran Danny Southwick. In the AFL it’s all about the quarterback all the time, where 98 percent of the plays are passing attempts.

On a recent weekday at camp the 6'4″Russell took the majority of snaps with the first-team offense. Barely recruited out of Newark High School, Russell found a home at Division II Ohio Dominican University where he started three seasons and excelled, completing 72.5 percent of his passes in 2017, and was named Great Midwest Athletic Conference player of the year.

When no NFL team came knocking following graduation, Russell returned to Newark with his degree in political science.

“It hurt, I was upset about it, but I knew I needed to keep on working,” says Russell.

When getting the cold shoulder there often comes a need for mutual dependence with family or old friends. Nothing like a little giving-and-receiving to keep your dream alive.

Russell took a job with his old high school as quarterbacks coach for the football team. Newark HS then extended an offer as a long-term substitute teacher and he took it.

“They were gracious enough to know my circumstances and if anything were to happen football wise, then they were going to let me take that opportunity,” he said.

Helping young people runs in the family for Russell. His mother works for Licking County Children Services, where he volunteers, and nobody needs a primer on how many children have entered the foster care system over the previous decade.

“I want them to see my experiences, and for them to not necessarily follow in my footsteps, but to know they are able to do something up and above and greater,” he says.

When it comes to making the transition from traditional football to the indoor game where the length and width of the field is shorter and tighter, Russell echoes what a lot of AFL quarterbacks have said before: the game is much faster and the throwing windows a lot smaller.

“The game is so fast, even for the fans to watch. It’s explosive and the talent level is top notch,” he says. “The offense can score a lot of points. It’s fun to watch. You really have to be there. It’s hard to experience on TV. I used to go to Destroyers’ games when I was little so it’s kind of ironic how all of this is falling into place.”

There’s precedence for an AFL quarterback reaching the NFL. Kurt Warner went undrafted in the 1994 NFL Draft and turned to the AFL, playing for the Iowa Barnstormers.

The pass-happy AFL helped Warner land a job with the St. Louis Rams where he orchestrated The Greatest Show on Turf. The Rams won Super Bowl XXVIII with an offense that registered three 500-point seasons in a row, a record for the NFL. Warner’s rags-to-riches story ended with an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

“The speed of the game in the Arena League is so much faster, and if you go back to some quotes made by Kurt Warner, he said the Arena League helped him process the NFL game much better because it slowed down for him,” says Coach Sauk.

The word “process” is being used a lot these days when it comes to building any unproven football team. A good word indeed when it comes to developing a pro quarterback or a foster kid, as Russell knows firsthand.

“Grant (Russell) is a rookie. I am trying to give him as many reps as possible,” says Coach Sauk. “He’s a good player and a good guy. It’s a process to build this team. And Grant is a strong presence in this process.”