RUSSELL Down a point in overtime against Class 6A Simon Kenton, T.J. Maynard didn’t hesitate to roll the dice and go for the win.
The following week when star running back Nathan Conley left the Backyard Brawl with an ankle injury, the Russell coach didn’t have to roll the dice inserting other players in his absence.
Maynard has options and a multitude of weapons at his disposal. The cupboard isn’t bare at Russell. It’s overflowing.
“Getting (Chase) Snedegar and (Hunter) Martin back is big for our team with Charlie (Jachimczuk) and Nathan returning,” Maynard said. “We are waiting for Ethan Sharp to get fully healthy, which I think will be a big addition for us. It makes us a lot better football team. But we have had some young guys step up — Mason Lykins and Carson Patrick in particular. Those two guys have stepped up and added to our depth at receiver with AJ Raybourn and Doug Oborne that played for us last year.”
Jachimczuk, a senior quarterback, has completed 63% of his pass attempts and has thrown for 933 yards. He’s tallied 12 touchdown passes with only one interception. With a wealth of contributors around him, Jachimczuk has tossed TDs to seven different receivers.
“I don’t have to rely on one person,” Jachimczuk said. “I can rely on multiple players. It really helps me being around and finding the right people. They all can play, so that helps.
“The coaches have really helped us learn so quickly with the amount of time we’ve gotten and the whole season shortened. Our coaching staff has really stepped up and the younger players have really stepped up their game.”
The plethora of playmakers in the receiving corps has allowed Maynard to open the playbook. Russell has nearly matched last year’s receiving yards total through five games and has accumulated more yards through the air than on the ground.
“We have a lot of weapons that can catch the ball,” Maynard said. “They are fairly tall and lanky and can run well. Also, it’s the development of Charlie. He’s gotten a lot better. He has worked his tail off in the weight room and his arm is a lot stronger.
“He did some things in the offseason to work on his mechanics and fundamentals. The game has really slowed down for him. It’s his third year back there and he can see things clearer.”
When the Pioneers scored first in the extra session two weeks ago at Henry R. Evans Stadium, the Red Devils responded with a Conley touchdown run. Maynard confidently chose to win the contest with the passing game. Jachimczuk found sophomore Ethan Oborne in the end zone for the winning grab.
“It really boosts my confidence that the coaching staff trusts me to make the play,” Jachimczuk said. “I went out there and did what they wanted me to do. They relied on me to make the play and we did it.”
Jachimczuk shared snaps two seasons ago with then-senior Grant Wilburn. Having last year to himself enhanced his development.
“Coming into this year, I know what I am looking for,” Jachimczuk said. “I loved playing with Grant two years ago. He was a big mentor for me. Last year on my own, it really helped to me to progress further with what I am reading and what I’m not.”
Ethan Oborne has played significant minutes in the Russell backfield but saw that number greatly increase after replacing Conley last Friday night against Greenup County. The sophomore said his quarterback helped him get accumulated to his new role.
The Red Devils didn’t skip a beat as Oborne totaled 110 yards of offense and scored twice.
“It makes me feel good, obviously,” Oborne said, “but it makes me feel better that I can step up for my team. It was a little nerve-racking at first, but after that first play, the nerves go away, and you just start playing.”
Conley and Oborne have similar builds and display the same physical and aggressive running style. Before entering the game with the Musketeers, his teammate offered words of encouragement.
“He told me to work hard and do the best that I could,” Oborne said of Conley. “He came up to me on Friday night and told me to play hard even though he couldn’t play.”
Snedegar adds veteran leadership to the backfield after missing the last two seasons with injuries. Martin missed most of last year’s slate but has become a big target for Jachimczuk this year. He leads Russell with 11 catches and is among a quartet of Red Devils with two TD receptions.
Martin started his high school career as a rusher, but a growth spurt changed his football outlook.
“My freshman year, I was six inches shorter than I am now,” Martin said. “That played a big role. My sophomore year is when I shot up and got a lot faster. I went out for receiver. I like (the position). It suits me better.”
Martin also plays linebacker and leads the team in solo tackles with 14. He said he has adapted to the pace of an increased workload.
“This is the first year that I’ve gotten a lot of reps on varsity,” Martin said. “I think the first game (of the year) I wasn’t ready for the speed of the game and wasn’t ready to keep up. Now, I think I am used to it and have figured it out.”
The Red Devils have allowed just nine points a game this season. The leadership on defense and some decisive wins have allowed more players to see the field on both sides of the ball.
“Our early games work like scrimmages. Not saying that we didn’t want to win those games,” Maynard said, “but we’re trying to work on some things and develop the identity of our football team. We also want to get some guys in that didn’t get as many reps in the preseason because of the lack of practices. With the scoring margin of our first few games, we were able to look at a few more kids and get others back in the rotation.”
Russell travels to Putnam Stadium tonight for a pivotal district game. Ashland has won six straight in the series and boasts a productive offense of its own. The Tomcats average 49.3 points a contest.
“We are very excited for this game,” Jachimczuk said. “We have been preparing all week. I think we can go out and give them a battle. They’ve only played in three games and we’ve had an extra two. But that doesn’t matter. It’s Ashland and they are really good.”
“They like to run the ball a lot,” he added. “The quarterback (Brett Mullins) is new. We don’t know much about him. It’s going to be a hit-or-miss type of thing. We have to contain Keontae (Pittman) and JT (Garrett). They are really fast.”
Maynard said Russell will play shorthanded against Ashland, but the Red Devils have relied on their poised personnel all season.
“It does give us an advantage because if you’re only one-dimensional, it’s a chance for a defense shut that down,” Maynard said. “Ashland is a very good football team, maybe the best team we have played to this point. Simon Kenton is pretty good though. My guys are looking forward to the challenge. It’s just another opportunity for some guys to step in and see what they can do in a big-time atmosphere.”
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