Not long ago, the Buccaneers didn’t have a seventh-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. But after making some deals, they ended up with two picks in the final round: No. 241 and No. 245. With the first of those two, they stayed on the defensive side of the ball, picking linebacker Chapelle Russell from Temple.
The 6-foot-2, 236-pound Russell gives Tampa Bay some depth in the linebacker room, plus he could stick if he contributes on special teams. He and head coach Bruce Arians share ties to Temple, just as sixth-round pick Khalil Davis shares Nebraska ties with general manager Jason Licht. Interesting, huh? Anyway, here, we have three things you need to know about Russell.
He played three positions in high school, standing out on both sides of the ball
At Lakewood High School in New Jersey, Russell (then going by Cook, the last name he was born with), was a standout all over the football field. He played quarterback, running back and linebacker. Displaying such versatility obviously takes impressive athleticism, especially when you consider the physical toll it takes to play all three of those positions on their own. Combining all three? That’s a completely different level of demanding, that’s for sure.
In his career at Lakewood, he ran for 1,586 yards and 18 touchdowns on 224 carries, with a great deal of his production coming as a senior. In his final season, he ran for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns in addition to throwing for 553 yards and four touchdowns. For his efforts, he was named to the All-Class B South Team and given a spot among New Jersey’s top 50 high school recruits. He chose to sign with Temple over Pitt, Boston College and Rutgers.
His athleticism wasn’t limited to the football field, either. Like many of the others in Tampa Bay’s 2020 draft class, Russell was a multi-sport athlete at the high school level. Aside from football, he also starred for the Piners’ basketball and track teams.
He overcame two torn ACLs to finish his Temple career on a strong note
Russell had to overcome a lot early on in his life, which we’ll get to a bit later. But his time at Temple brought on plenty of adversity as well. On his first day on campus, he lost his father to cancer. That’s when he decided to take his dad’s last name, which was Russell. Then, after redshirting in 2015, his collegiate career began with a pretty good redshirt freshman season in 2016. However, it came to a harsh end when he tore his right ACL in a late-season practice.
He came back in 2017 and played extremely well, only to suffer yet another torn right ACL to cut his season short once again. At the time of his second injury, his 70 tackles led the team. Despite missing the final three games in that season, he still finished fourth on the team in tackles.
After back-to-back setbacks, Russell made a huge comeback in 2018. He started all 13 games of the Owls’ 8-5 season, racking up 70 tackles (five for loss), 1.5 sacks, three passes defended and a nation-leading five fumble recoveries. He wore No. 3 that season, which is notable considering Temple awards single-digit jersey numbers to the nine toughest players on the team. His strong redshirt junior season led him to be named the Male Comeback Player of the Year for Temple Athletics.
Before his redshirt senior season last year, Russell was named to the Butkus Award Watch List. He followed his healthy and productive 2018 by once again starting all 13 games in 2019, totaling 72 tackles (nine for loss) and three passes defended. And he did so while once again wearing No. 3—one of the prestigious single-digit numbers. Starting 26 of 26 games over his final two seasons, he did an incredibly admirable job of putting his two ACL injuries behind him. In his career with the Owls, he lived up to the “Temple TUFF” standard.
Football gave him stability when he needed it most
Russell has been through a lot in his life. Even before losing his father as a freshman at Temple and then suffering two torn ACLs, he had to overcome plenty of adversity. His mother was in the Navy, so he was moving around a lot as a kid. He spent time in Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago and Virginia, but it was his time in New Jersey that brought on a unique chapter of his life. When he was a junior at Lakewood High School, his living situation was once again bound to change. But he didn’t want to go—he wanted to finish prep career with Lakewood.
As thoroughly detailed in an article from The Temple News, Russell was living out of a hotel that didn’t have cable or a kitchen and his mother was spending $40 a day to send he and his brother to school in a taxi. But he was making the most of it anyway, and he didn’t want to leave Lakewood when his mother took her next deployment assignment. His parents had split when he was younger, so his dad wasn’t in the area for him to stay with. That’s where his football coach, L.J. Clark, came to the rescue, setting him up to live at his parents’ home.
Staying with his coach’s parents allowed Russell to have some stability, and without having to move again, he was able to have a lot of success at Lakewood. As this 2018 story puts it, football gave him some stability:
Football provided stability, and he wanted to see things out at Lakewood High. “Knowing where I came from, and knowing what I didn’t have, that always was my driving force,” Russell said.
The fact that Clark did that for him isn’t something Russell has taken lightly, as it has led to a “deep sense of loyalty” to his coach, as the story puts it. And, in said article from the USA Today affiliate, Clark had nothing but glowing things to say about his former player. He was even quoted as saying this:
“The story’s not done for him,” Clark said. “You’ll be writing about him on Sundays, I promise.”
Right now, Clark’s words almost feel prophetic, as the former Lakewood and Temple star now has a chance to find his place on the Bucs’ roster. It’s been a long road full of ups and downs for Russell, but he was thrilled to get that coveted phone call on Saturday. As he puts it:
"I would've been fine being a free agent, but there's something special about being drafted. Then I got the call. That call that everyone else has been getting. It's indescribable."— Bucs Nation (@Bucs_Nation) April 26, 2020
So, that’s just some of Chapelle Russell’s story. The rest has yet to be written, as he’ll get a chance to start writing more of it when the Bucs can come together as a team for the first time in 2020. You can find him on Twitter at @DeuceRussell36. Be sure to take some time to congratulate him and welcome him to Tampa Bay!