When enemy forces gaze across the battle line, they see a pair of fiery eyes shooting out from dark face paint.

It’s a scene reminiscent of Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, but in this version the character is Russell linebacker Josh Wills.

Like the dynamic Wallace, Wills is a force to be reckoned with for Kentucky’s defending Class 2A state champs.

“Josh has been our defensive leader for two years now,’’ said Russell head coach Ivan McGlone. “He learned his trade well as a sophomore.’’

Now a senior, Wills and his teammates are on a mission to ride out of Papa John’s Stadium with another state championship banner. The underdog Red Devils go up against unbeaten powerhouse Mercer County in the title game Friday at 11:30 a.m.

Russell warmed up for the challenge by blanking Belfry 19-0 on the road as Wills led a swarming defense.

Wills, also a standout offensive guard, had 13 tackles and made his presence felt all over the field. His perfectly timed blitz on Belfry’s third play from scrimmage forced a fumble, setting up Russell’s first touchdown.

“It was a big play to get us going,’’ McGlone said. “Josh has that ability to make things happen.’’

Conversely, Belfry’s Wishbone never got going against the Red Devils, who employed blitz packages and walked up their defensive backs to help shut down the running lanes.

Belfry’s final chance to get on the scoreboard went by the wayside when the Pirates turned the ball over on downs with 4:58 remaining after reaching Russell’s 14.

“It meant a whole lot,’’ Wills said of the shutout. “Some people don’t think we’re as good defensively as we were last year. Holding a real good Belfry scoreless shows that we are for real.’’

Wills, a 6-foot, 192-pounder, only sees himself as one cog in the Red Devils’ defensive machine.

“All the guys out there are making plays,’’ he said. “I’m proud of everybody. We don’t care who gets the press. It’s all about winning the state championship. That’s what we are here to do.’’

Like last season, one of Wills’ main responsibilities is to make sure Russell defenders are lined up properly. He receives vocal or hand signals from defensive coordinator Garry Morris before every play.

“Josh pretty much knows how we call things,’’ Morris said. “Most of the time I don’t have to complete a call because he can finish it.’’

Wills said senior safety Jacob Sizemore assists with secondary calls.

“Jacob has been back there for three years,’’ Wills said. “He helps me and coach Morris a lot.’’

As for his face paint, Wills puts it on every game just like his uniform.

“It’s like I’m getting ready for battle,’’ he said. “Last year, I was just having fun one day and made this big mask. I kind of drew it on.’’

Steve McGuire, a Russell assistant coach last season, began calling him “Ultimate Warrior’’ and that suited Wills just fine.

Morris called Wills a hard-nosed and likable player with a lot of personality.

“He’s not a bull in a china shop,’’ Morris said. “He uses his brain. He’s got a savvy about him, something we’ve seen every since Josh was a freshman.’’

Wills said he considers his defensive role to be an honor.

“In my opinion, we have one of the best defenses in the state,’’ he said. “I like having that responsibility of making sure people are in the right place.’’

And McGlone likes going into battle with Wills.

“When Josh graduates, we’re going to hire him as a defensive coach,’’ McGlone said after the Red Devils’ semifinal win.’

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.

Trending Video

Recommended for you