Michael Russell is a three-sport star at Huntersville (N.C.) Hopewell High School. The 6-2, 200-pound middle infielder also plays point guard and free safety and is rated as the No. 16 player in the state by Impact Baseball. He is also listed in the Top 1,000 by Perfect Game in the 2011 high school class.
After missing his junior campaign because of a devastating leg injury, Russell’s recruitment got started last summer on the travel circuit with the Dirtbags. “It is a real quick process,” Russell said about his whirlwind recruitment by North Carolina. “About a month before the Dirtbags headed to Jupiter [Fla.], [Coach] Andy [Partin] talked with Carolina for me and I talked with them on the phone. They came and watched me play one weekend before in June so it was really about a three-week process. And in Jupiter they made me the offer. It was unbelievable - I had never been to Jupiter before and I had heard there were going to be a ton of scouts but there were four or five times the number that I have seen at East Cobb before. I remember during the playoffs there had to be 100 golf carts just circling the field around the back, down the first and third base lines."
“With my broken leg I had a lot of late interest,” Russell continued. “My first offer before Jupiter was UNC-W, then in Jupiter I remember the day I committed to North Carolina. Earlier that day I had talked with South Carolina on the phone and before that I had been talking with Central Florida for a time and I was pretty interested in going there. But when Carolina made me the offer - I had a couple of visits lined up in the next week but I pretty much committed on the spot.”
Why North Carolina?:
Russell cited his instant rapport with the Tar Heel coaching staff. “It is really easy to talk with them and they both seem like really good guys," he said. “And on my visit up there I met Coach Fox and he is also easy to talk to and he is a really nice guy and I like him a lot.”
The combination of academics and athletics is what sealed the decision for Russell. “It is one of the top academic schools along with Duke in the state of North Carolina and one of the top in the country,” Russell said. “Baseball wise you notice how great their facilities are along with four straight College World Series a couple of years ago. Just one of the the best college baseball programs in the country as well.”
Russell is a leadoff batter with power. He is a contact hitter with a good feel for the strike zone. He has tremendous power from his thick frame and has a body type that at first glance looks like a corner infielder -- until you see his footwork and flexibility of a middle infielder with soft hands and a very strong throwing arm. He has extremely quick hands and has a very fast release. He has above average speed on the bases.
“Very talented athlete in general,” Hopewell coach Chet Greeson said of Russell. “Three-sport athlete excels in all three -- basketball, football and baseball. I think the skills that he has developed in the other sports have helped him in baseball. But a very talented middle infielder who has a high level of skill at all the tools. He is fast, runs the bases well. Exceptional hitter, hits for power as well as average. Great arm in the infield. Can play anywhere on the infield or outfield for that matter. He has even mentioned that he would like to pitch this spring. He can do it all. Mentally he is a student of the game. He is like another coach on the field and knows the game really well and helps to teach his teammates the game. Last year when he was hurt it was like having another coach in the dugout. His attitude is great and he is one of the hardest workers that I have ever had. He is an awesome pleasure to have on the team and to have on the field.”
“I think his potential is out the roof,” Greeson elaborated. “He has the ability to play any position on the field and his limits position-wise will not be an issue. It is scary to even conceive where he would have been now if he had only been a baseball player. The time that he has spent towards football and basketball, had he put it toward baseball ... I don’t know that he would be any better mentally or attitude-wise towards the game but skill-wise it is hard to say where he would be. I think coming out of high school being a three-sport athlete his projectablility two or three years down the road is higher than kids who just played baseball right now at this point. I would be very excited having a kid coming into our program knowing that there is so much more that he can achieve and get better at.”
Russell has been excited to be back on the field as a senior and is living in the moment and looking forward to Chapel Hill. “I have no idea on the draft,” Russell explained. “I have my sights set on Carolina and it would have to be something tremendous to not make me go. I want to go up there and get back to the College World Series and win the ACC Championship for a couple of years. I have not really thought about my personal goals. I just want to get on the field and help the team where ever I can.”