Tracking proCanes - Twan Russell - Part II

In Part II of our interview with Twan Russell, Twan talks about his recruiting experience, the Washington game, the NFL Draft, Randy SHannon, the current state of the program, his love for cartoons and much more! Click here to read Part I of our interview with Twan.

On Friday September 19th, The Russell Life Skills and Reading Foundation will be holding it’s White Tie for Literacy Gala at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to raise even more money for the community. To register for the Gala click here.

pC: Do you remember anything from your recruiting visit?
TR: Yeah, they dropped me off at the wrong hotel. [Laughter] Darrin took me out one night and Mike took me out the next night. Mike got confused on the hotel because there were a couple of different Marriots so he dropped me off at the wrong hotel. I didn't notice, I didn't know Miami. I'm from Fort Lauderdale. I get out of the taxi and get to the counter and I'm thinking this doesn't look right. I ran back outside, I don't know Mike's number and I had to take cab and I didn't even have any money! [Laughter] I'm bartering with the driver and telling him I'll get my mom on the phone and she can pay you. So yeah, Mike took me to the wrong hotel. We still laugh about today.

pC: You still talk to them?
TR: Yea, I talked to Mike the other day and I was with Darrin a couple of nights ago. Our families are friends.

pC: What would you say was one of your top memories from UM? You never won a Championship.
TR: I won one bowl game. I came in '92 and we played for the National Championship. I was on the active roster, so I would travel because at one point we lost a couple of linebackers, Rohan [Marley] was out and so was Corwin Francis so what they did was they told me they wouldn't play me because that would burn my redshirt but they would take me just in case.

pC: That’s great for you, you got to travel.
TR: It was great! I was there for the San Diego game. [Laughter]

pC; So you got to witness all the brawls, or did you get involved too?
TR: So..... [Laughter] I got to travel that whole year. We played for a Championship and lost, the debacle in New Orleans. The next three years we were in the national championship hunt. My fourth year we couldn't go to a Bowl Game and then my last year we finally won a bowl game, the CarQuest bowl, we beat Virginia. It was a great game, but for me it was bittersweet. It was a great game because we won, but I hurt my knee on the last play of the game. So, I'm going into the draft, though at the time I didn't know I was going into the draft, and I'm preparing for the NFL. I had a knee sprain on the last play of the game. I don't know what happened, some guy fell on my leg and it was a disaster from there. It was awesome because we won though.

pC: You were part of another tough game, the Washington game.
TR: I started that game.

pC: Wow, I'll never forget that game.
TR: Shucks, you? I remember Napoleon Kaufman, He caught the screen pass and I was actually out there for that play. I read it perfectly but it was three against one, and the rule is, if you're outnumbered like that you kind of throw your body into it and take everybody out. I don't like that because you can create three different holes for a guy and he has three different ways to go. My rule is I try and split it so at least I can make him cut back inside or outside. So I decide to split it and made him cut outside thinking I have all my boys coming and they just weren't there. [Laughter] I can still see him running. I mean he's down there in the Keys by now! That killed me. That was probably one of the hardest games because it wasn't about the team, it was about the dynasty. When you carry that kind of weight on your shoulders you feel like you let all the guys who built the place, the guys that didn't win down. We forget about those guys, from when the program was cancelled and then we brought the program back, people forget how we built this program on their backs and they never got to see on the field the rewards but it's because of them we were able to come.

pC: I am sure they lived it through you guys.
TR: I hope they did. I really hope they did. When we go back to some of these alumni weekends. It's great to hear their stories. Maybe they can't talk about National Championships but they're talking about guys who went to the NFL and the bitter rivalries, the Gator Flop. I STILL hate Florida. Nat Moore is a close friend of mine and outside of him going to Florida he's a really good dude.

pC: You're having a hard time finding a good memory.
TR: By University of Miami standards a great memory is a National Championship. I have three bowl rings that I have never worn. I have never even shown my kids, I just realized that as we were talking. They're sitting underneath my bathroom cabinet. I don't display them and at the end of the day, I don't want to be rewarded for losing. I had great moments. There were a lot of great games, some of the Florida State games. The West Virginia game with Tremain Mack coming off the corner and blocking the punt was awesome. We had some great moments, for me I kind of would define happiness when you win. I just think that's one thing I never accomplished. I have never won a team sport my entire life. At St. Thomas we were runner-ups, we lost to Fort Walton Beach, Danny Wuerffel. Every time I see Danny I slap him on his head. I won one championship in track in hurdles but you celebrate that by yourself so I have never won a team championship. I wish I had. That's why I think all the good memories I have are not great, they are just good memories. Winning is good, but Championships are great.

pC: Where was the toughest place to play an away game?
TR: There are a couple of places. West Virginia was always tough. Virginia Tech was always tough only because they would grow the grass three inches high and then they would wet it. I wouldn't say Florida State was a tough place to play, it was more of a great place to play. I don't think that place ever defined whether we won or lost the game. Outside the chants it wasn't that bad. At West Virginia your life was in danger. They hit Randy Shannon upside the head with a trashcan. They would spit on you. We would wear our helmets all the way onto the field. They would pour drinks all over us. That was a violent place. I used to get scared. Am I going to look up in the stands and see someone with no teeth?

pC: Or throwing his teeth at you.
TR: Exactly, he probably would have. [Laughter]

pC: Did you have a nickname either in Miami or as a pro?
TR: That I am willing to share? [Laughter] In college I didn't really have a nickname, T Russ, nothing crazy. In the NFL they would call me “Angry Christian.”

pC: Why is that?
TR: It was kind of a play on words because most people say Christians are nice and sweet but I was a special teams player and I had to run down the field and knock someone out and there is a switch that would turn on. People would tell me to calm down and I wasn't going to calm down, I'm playing football. I would get in a little fight or something and they would say 'Christians don't fight' and I would say "go read the bible!" You read some of the most gory wars in the bible, it's the Christians fighting, so I got the name "Angry Christian" after practice one time. I got in a fight with one of the offensive lineman. He just hit one too many times and it was enough and I lost it. I remember [Dave] Wannstedt was the coach at the time and he says 'Is that Twan?" Yeah, "A C," angry Christian.

pC: So you didn't expect to get drafted?
TR: No, honestly the first time I heard my name in the NFL was when there was scout with the Raiders in the middle of the season at the facility watching film.  I didn't know who he was and I was going in to watch film and he says 'you need the room?' I asked him if he was a new coach or something and he said 'no, I'm with the Raiders, what's your name?' I told him and he said 'Oh yeah, I was just watching you, you might be OK when you get to the NFL.' I said "NFL?" [Laughter] He said 'hey, I see you being able to play a long time on special teams and if you really work hard you could become a starter.’ I was like wow. Maybe in the back of mind I knew I wanted to go, but you never know. I was taking internships at Channel 10 and with the Urban League. I was thinking when this thing finishes, I'm going back to mama's house. I was more focused on graduating from college and making sure that [I could make a future for myself]. Yes, I was training and staying shape, but this was during football season, I was just concerned with the next game. After that conversation, it was in the back of my mind.

After the season Randy spoke to me and was kind of giving me some instruction on what I should be doing as far as my training and the blueprint of what the NFL was looking for and what they're expectations were. He told me to make sure I was healthy and when it was time to run, to run my best. He told me I needed to go to the Senior Bowl, but I ended up not going to any of them, but I went to the combine banged up. I ran, but didn't run well, I ran a 4.7 [seconds 40-yard dash], but I was still hurt, so a 4.7 hurt wasn't too bad. I ended up being drafted by the Redskins.

pC: Did you sit there on Day Two and knew you were going to get drafted.
TR: It was kind of mixed. There were some teams interested, where they were saying depending on what happens they might be interested in you in the third round. Like on day one I'm sitting there with my mom and brother, just hanging out. It was kind of stressful, my agent had told me you're probably going to go in the 4th or 5th round but depending on the team you might go in the 3rd round. So on Day 1 I get a phone call and it's the Detroit Lions. They asked if I was ready and told me they were thinking about taking me on the next call, they asked if I thought I could play linebacker and I told them I was ready. So, they had made mistake. They meant to call Matt Russell. [Laughter] So the guy calls back and apologizes and tells me the intern gave him the wrong number and name. That was tough. I was done after that call. I didn't want anyone around me. Day two we were just sitting around watching and my little baby niece walks up to me and says 'Uncle Twan, did they call your name?' and I said "No they didn't call my name! Stop asking me." [Laughter] Everybody had their marching order to leave Twan alone. The Redskins called me, but it was kind of weird because I never talked to them, they never showed any interest at least not to me. A couple of days before I guess they called my agent and told him they liked me for their 5th round pick.

pC: So you were with the Redskins, Dolphins, and Falcons, what was your favorite stop?
TR: The Dolphins, without a doubt. I started a few games, but I was a backup. I played all three positions depending on what year it was and who was hurt and what the situation was. My first year I had a big nickel role but at the end of the day I was a special teams player and I was proud of it but don't get me wrong. I didn't like the fact I wasn't starting. I will never forget what Randy told me. He told me 'Twan everybody in the NFL has a niche. Focus on special teams and you'll have an opportunity to play linebacker at some point.' I took that and never forgot it and if everyone has a niche, what's my niche?

Early on, I wasn't a big guy, I wasn't as big as I needed to be for linebacker but I was fast. So my rookie year I went to Pete Garcia who was the special teams coach and I told him "I'm going to be your best special teams player, I just need you to point me in the right direction" and he just starts laughing. He's an old school guy. I came out there young and glassy eyed. He just turns and tells me 'show me on the football field.' I thought the guy hated me. He cussed all the rookies out, he acted like he didn't like us, but when it came down to it, he did that because he wanted to see if we could handle it. One of the defining moments was on opening day when I walk away with a few tackles and he taps me on the butt and says 'hey you did a pretty good' and then he cussed me out again. That was the first positive thing I heard the guy say for the four months I'm associated with the team. [Laughter] It's memories like that, that made it all worth it. Football is a fun game and it has afforded me to do a lot of things, have a great family, taught me how to deal with different people.

pC: What ended it for you?
TR: My third year with the Dolphins, third game of the year, I chipped the bone in the back of my knee. Initially we thought it was a minor deal and I could come back and I tried to come back without having surgery. I ended up having surgery, came back a couple of weeks after that and it just wasn't well. It was a grinding and burning sensation in my knee. I've been hurt but I had never had an injury that I couldn't play with. I stayed hurt, I was always small but I played. From the time you started the year everything is hurting so for me pain was just my friend. This was the first time I couldn't turn the pain off or I couldn't find something to cover the pain. It was tough. That year I was on a cane and crutches and I ended up getting picked up by Atlanta. They kind of took a chance on me and they needed a special teams guy to come in and help. I played the year but it was painful, it was the worst experience I ever had. I have no idea how I played on Sundays. I had an OK year, I was second the team in tackles but I was a skeleton of who I used to be. It just wasn't a good fit. I knew at the end of the year, unless I had a significant increase in comfort, I wouldn't play again. I came back home and I was at my mom's house because she had gotten sick. I was crossing the street and I misjudged the car and normally you just run out of the way. It didn't go that well. I limped and kind of had to jump and I remember sitting there, like, I'm done. I had to get back on crutches and a cane again for a year. I wasn't close to getting hit but it was just so much effort to cross the street. It was rough so I ended up retiring. 

pC: Was it tough to retire?
TR: No, because for me I wasn't retiring because nobody wanted me , but because I couldn’t do it. I think there is a difference. When a guy is healthy he is thinking he can still go out and play, that's tough. But when you can't physically, I think it's an easier pill to swallow. 

pC: Who was the most influential person from a football standpoint?
TR: I'm kind of like a hodge podge of a bunch of different coaches. Probably the coach I spent the most time with and had the most opportunity to learn from was Randy. He was my position coach in college and my position coach with the Dolphins. I spent six years of my upper football life with him. 

pC: Why do you think the program slipped the way it did in recent years?
TR: Whether it's a company or a marriage, a city or country you have your "lows." It's not if they come but it's when they come. You have to manage the lows to make sure you are preparing yourself to go back to the "highs." People change, lifestyles change, players change, the dynamics of the school changes, everything affects football. You change the acceptance rate by one percentage point, well that's two players. A lot of things kind of fell into that. I don't blame one individual. A lot of people try and pass it off on Larry Coker, or a lot of people try and pass it off on Miami's academics or the Orange Bowl. It's everything. For whatever reason it happened. We were down then, and we're on our way up. You can see it. If you look at every college institution there are highs and lows. That's just the way it is. No one really knows why but if you change the offensive coordinator or your quarterback gets hurt it can change the entire year. There are a lot of variables that go into it.

A few years ago we were down, I mean we were as low as you can go. You have people wanting to jump off a bridge and drag the team with them. That stuff hurts, but what's the plan going forward? Who is the person we are going to put in there to make sure that five years from now we will be on our way up. Look at Nebraska. Dynasty. Michigan. Dynasty. Look at Ohio State. People forget. These dynasties go down a little bit. The difference between the University of Miami and them is that we're more than a dynasty and people have higher expectations for us, but we're not invincible. I'll tell you I think we have somebody in place who is building it the right way for longevity.

pC: So you think Randy Shannon is the man?
TR: Absolutely I think Randy Shannon is the man. People say it should be faster. You ever do something bad to your wife? Have you ever said something stupid? How long did it take you to fix it? It's years! It doesn't happen overnight. One bad thing can destroy a dynasty and it may never come back. We have a guy who is building it the right way. Unfortunately he had to get rid of some things, redo some things and retool. He had to bring in a different type of culture. The culture that worked 20 years ago doesn't necessarily work today. If a CEO or manager can't change with the times they're going to fail.  The University of Miami is changing its culture. The things that we did 20 or 30 years ago don't work today. The mentality is a little bit different, so now we have a guy in there that's willing to change it a little bit and he's doing it the way he knows works. These guys need someone who is strong but loving. He's his own man. I don't care what you say about Randy Shannon, he's his own man and I respect that. At the end of the day they're going to judge him. I trust him. I know what he did for me. I know the man I am, a lot of it has to do with my relationship with him and the people at the University of Miami. They're going to be back. You can see the building blocks. We're impatient! When we were going down, other people were going up. I know some people say it's a four-year term, but it's really longer than that. We didn't get into this hole in one year, we got into this hole in multiple years and when we were going down these other teams were building. I mean you could say in essence that it's a six to seven year turn that we're trying to catch up with. Do I think it will take six to seven years? No.  I think Randy has a real good blueprint. I don't like making predictions especially when it comes to a team I have an affinity for. I know this season is very difficult and people are talking about these first four games. 

pC: You may be a little biased because you work for the Dolphins, but what do you think about the move to Land Shark Stadium?
TR: [Laughter] I'll be honest my initial thought when they first talking about moving from the Orange Bowl to Land Shark Stadium. I thought, I don't know about that, I'm thinking about tradition, I'm not thinking about amenities. Land Shark Stadium is one of the better stadiums in the world. When we classify Land Shark Stadium we measure it by world standards. Someone asked me one day 'if that's the case and the Orange Bowl is so great, you must take the family there all the time and never miss a game.' I was like "it's tough for me to take the kids there because there are no bathrooms, there is no cover for them, if it gets to hot I have no where to take them." And the guy is like 'if that's the case then why do you care about the change?' I paused and thought that it makes a lot of sense. Then I thought about it some more and concluded it's a great transition. You talk about the amenities alone outside of the football game.  I think at the end of the day people go to watch the game because of the game, not because of where it is. But people now are like 'hey if it gets too hot, I can go in the suite or I can get myself a nicer meal or go to the bathroom and be comfortable for a couple of minutes. 

pC: The atmosphere though isn't the same.
TR: I am biased now, I am biased. This year will be a little different; we'll have a couple games that we pack them out. We're going to really see a hump because Land Shark Stadium is a special place when you get a big crowd in there. Now you can't say it doesn't look like the University of Miami's home. They transform it very well especially when they decided to put the "U" in the middle. When you win, none of that matters.   

pC: Word Associations, Give me the first thing that pops in your head when you read the following:

Randy Shannon: Greatness
Larry Coker: Wow, [laughter] Great Dresser
Orange Bowl: Special
Land Shark Stadium: Ultimate
The Ibis: Gritty
Fiesta Bowl: Hate it
Ohio State: Hate them, second to Florida
Butch Davis: Transition
Art Kehoe: The man

pC: Do you follow any teams other than the Dolphins?
TR: I watch as much football as I can since I work Sundays. 

pC: Favorite NBA Team?
TR: I'm a Heat fan.

pC: Do you follow baseball?
TR: No. I actually hate baseball. When I was in Middle School, I went to Lauderdale Lakes Middle School. My sixth grade year, I had never played the game before and they had some flyers up for tryouts. I walk up to the coach and say "hey coach, I can run, I can catch, if you can teach me how to bat, I think I could be a real good player." He tells me 'I don't have time to teach you how to bat, I've got all these kids over here that play city ball and already know how do it right now. You're too much effort.' I was like screw you and I hated baseball from then. 

pC: What's your favorite food?
TR: Collared Greens

pC: What sort of music will I find in your iPod?
TR: I love gospel, rap, hip-hop.

pC: What movie could you watch over and over?
TR: I pride myself on never watching the same movie twice. [Laughter] 

pC: Ok how about a movie you could watch twice?
TR: Those little kid movies. “Cars.” I have seen the movie one hundred times. My son loves it. 

pC: What's one TV show you can't miss?
TR: You want me to be honest? I'm a cartoon freak. I don't miss any of them. I TiVo them all. 

pC: When you say cartoons do you mean the old cartoons or Simpsons Family Guy?
TR: No, I hate the Simpsons and Family Guy. I watch Yu-Gi-Oh, Fantastic Four, I mean you name it, I watch it. My son and I watch it all. I'm a cartoon nut. I TiVo about 20 cartoons. I don't watch them all, but I pick and choose. My favorite is probably Wolverine X-Men.  

pC: What do you do in your spare time?
TR: Work on the foundation and hang out with family.

pC: Two websites you have to check daily?
TR: The Dolphins website and

We at would like to thank Twan Russell for being so gracious with his time to do this very insightful interview for our new feature "Tracking proCanes." Click here to check out our past interviews with Leon Searcy, Steve Walsh, Frank Costa, John Routh, Chad Wilson and more!

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