ALCOA –– Nothing but another state championship will satisfy Alcoa senior quarterback Walker Russell.
Ditto for his teammates.
The top-ranked Tornadoes (11-0) are favored to win their fourth consecutive Class 3A state title. Next up is visiting Unicoi County (9-2) in a second-round game Friday night at 7.
Russell says Alcoa’s 34-28 victory over Maryville on Sept. 7 was a huge step in the team’s master plan.
“I think with this group, they kind of expected the way we’re playing,” Russell said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think when we beat Maryville it kind of got people’s attention that this was a different team than in years past.
“We came together as a senior class before the season started and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to get over the hump of like 13-2 or 14-1. We wanted to go to 15-0 and win the state championship.”
Russell (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) has plenty of big-game experience.
In last year’s state championship game, a 31-20 win over Covington, Russell was selected offensive MVP when he threw for 123 yards on 8-of-14 passing with no interceptions and ran for 60 yards and a touchdown (1 yard) on 14 carries.
Russell has started every game since his junior season. He split time with Jaylen Myers as a sophomore and got a spot start as a freshman.
“We knew seeing him in the seventh and eighth grade he was going to be a good quarterback,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “You could tell by his arm strength and just the way he handled himself at the quarterback position. He’s been a good one, probably as good as we’ve had here in a long, long time.”
Russell has thrown for 1,503 yards and 23 touchdowns this season with only three interceptions, completing 70 percent of his passes en route to being recently named a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football semifinalist.
For his career, Russell has 4,456 passing yards with 52 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Russell’s statistics could be even more impressive, but he’s often on the bench in the second half with the Tornadoes having big leads and backups on the field.
“He’s developed well and he’s stayed on pace,” Rankin said of Russell. “He’s a great teammate. That’s the first thing I can say about him. He doesn’t care who gets credit. He’s like a lot of our guys. If we ever wanted to pump up some stats on somebody we certainly could.
“There’s really only one game this year (Russell has) played four quarters and that was Maryville, and he beat them. He had a great game. He sort of took over the game over there. The stats that he has are very meaningful.”
They certainly were against Maryville in the fourth game of the season.
Russell completed 14 of 22 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns – two to Connor Canfield and one to Tyler Boyd.
His 6-yard TD pass to Boyd with 9 minutes, 31 seconds left to play proved to be the game-winner.
It was Alcoa’s first victory over Maryville since 2010.
“It was a team effort. Nobody could have done that by themselves,” Russell said. “We knew if we wanted to go 15-0 we had to beat Maryville because usually everybody knows Alcoa loses that game. But we came together and we knew we wanted to win that game, mainly just for the community, because we hadn’t beaten them in like eight years. We really wanted that one.”
Russell knew he wanted to be a quarterback in middle school. He stopped playing baseball as a freshman at Alcoa and stopped basketball before his sophomore year.
Both of his parents were athletes at Heritage. Noah Russell played football and his wife, Shanna, played basketball.
Noah was influential in Walker’s athletic pursuits.
“He thought baseball was going to be my main sport, pitching,” Russell said of his father. “I had a great arm and everything. We thought that was going to be my sport, but then I think he kind of realized that I fell in love with football and so he started working with me on that.”
Russell takes pride in being Alcoa’s quarterback.
The Tornadoes have won a record-tying 16 state football championships (Maryville also has 16). They’ve won four of the last five Class 3A state titles.
“It’s really an honor if you think about it,” Russell said. “You look around and see all the state championships here and you get to say you played for a team like that and you played for a coach like coach Rankin, it’s really an honor.”
Since the win over Maryville, the Tornadoes outscored their next seven opponents 347-25. Only two teams, Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett and Austin-East, have scored on Alcoa during the stretch.
Alcoa beat Dobyns-Bennett 42-17 on Sept. 21 and defeated Austin-East 31-8 on Oct. 26.
The Tornadoes are coming off a 56-0 first-round win over Claiborne, while Unicoi County beat Kingston, 27-20.
If Alcoa keeps winning, it plays at home until the state semifinals where a potential matchup at Red Bank looms.
Russell says Rankin keeps the team focused on each week even when it’s an overwhelming favorite to win.
“I think coach Rankin has done a good job getting us prepared for that because he knows if you play for Alcoa, anytime you get in the playoffs you’re going to have a target on your back,” Russell said. “He does a good job of just preparing us, just keeping us cool, and we do a good job of doing that ourselves as players, just going week by week.
“You can’t take anybody you’re playing in the playoffs for granted because everybody’s going to give you their best shot when you’re playing for Alcoa.”
Russell doesn’t expect his football career to end in an Alcoa uniform.
Although he doesn’t have any college offers, Russell has been contacted by several FBS and FCS programs.
“Hopefully if we keep playing at the pace we’re playing, I can get a couple of offers,” he said.
Rankin is confident it will happen.
“He can certainly play college football,” Rankin said. “He studies the game, he does everything, he’s a great teammate, he’s got good arm strength and he’s a lot better runner than a lot of people know. We run him some and he’s productive when he does run. He can certainly play at the next level.”