It’s not hard to find Plainview sophomore Eli Russ on the field, or anywhere for that matter.
Just follow the trail of bruised egos and grass-stained jerseys of the opposing defense and you’ll find the 6-foot-6 300-pound right tackle.
In his first season starting for the Indians, the 16-year-old sophomore stacked 10 minutes of pancake blocks or ‘whoopings’ as he calls them into his highlight reel: Viewer discretion is advised.
Now, Russ is stacking Division I offers.
Since January, Russ has received scholarship offers from Oklahoma State University, Tulsa University and the University of North Texas to play football.
On Saturday, Notre Dame invited Russ for a campus visit, joining the list of schools including Stanford University and the University of Oklahoma that have expressed interest in the Plainview standout.
Though he's thrilled to receive offers and interest from Division I programs, Eli said not much has changed.
At Plainview’s offseason workout on Monday, he’s another guy on the team. Just a high school kid lifting weights. He's still Eli.
But while most 16-year-old sophomores are busy worrying about passing their drivers test, Russ is preparing for invite-only combine’s hosted by Nike, Under Armour, and Rivals in the upcoming months.
“I try not to think about it or let it get to my head,” Russ said. “I’m just going to keep working. College is a long way away.”
Plainview coach Joe Price said Eli is one of the best linemen he’s coached at his age. High praise considering Price coached two former NFL offensive lineman, including tackle Phil Loadholt who started six years for the Minnesota Vikings.
Though his size and measurables in the weight room tick a lot of boxes, Price said the sophomore’s intangibles make him special.
“What I like about Eli and these programs like about him is how he finishes blocks,” Price said. “He pancakes a lot of kids. Five or six times a game he’s putting them on their back. It’s not just knocking guys down, he’s grabbing guys, driving them 10-yards down the field and throwing them down.”
In the fall, Price said Russ’s roughneck demeanor impressed an Oklahoma State coach scouting one of Plainview’s practices.
Eli broke his finger, and despite his hand looking busted, got right back to the line for the next play
“That’s just who he is,” Price said. “He’s a tough kid, he just goes to work.”
Russ was offered by Oklahoma State in January, days after the sophomore received his first offer from North Texas.
Growing up, Russ was always been a big. Russ gets his size from his dad, but aside from a few relatives in Arkansas, Russ said his family wasn’t into sports.
But when he was nine years old, after years of strangers remarking to his dad about how that big kid should be playing football, Russ’s dad signed him up.
By sixth grade, Russ was six feet tall and by his freshman year at Plainview, Russ was listed at 6’5 280.
And though his family couldn’t offer him insight on footwork, blocking techniques or the nuances of the recruiting process, he did learn the value of hard work.
His dad is an oil man and before moving to Ardmore, Russ was raised around cattle and oil rigs.
Each summer and spring break, Russ returns to work at his uncle’s ranch.
It was there Russ said he learned the mentality it takes to be an offensive lineman.
“You can’t face a bull scared, or thinking about backing down, you take control,” Russ said. “In football, it’s the same. It’s how I approach every game. I walk up ready to give them a whooping.”
Whoopings came early and often in Plainview’s 2017 season as Russ helped a Plainview rushing attack that averaged nearly 7 yards a carry and totaled 2,895 yards.
When in doubt, Plainview’s quarterback and leading rusher Spencer Somerville said going to the right side was always a good option with Russ at tackle.
“I loved running right because I knew he was going to put that defensive end on his back,” Somerville said. “He’s a safety net. Even though he’s a sophomore I could always trust him to be in the right spot.”
After a year of dominating his competition, Russ lined up against the biggest matchup of the year, facing senior Tulsa commit Dalton May in Plainview's rematch with Jones in the Class 3A playoffs.
And like he’d done all season, Russ served up pancakes.
“I said I was going to whoop him and he said he was going to whoop me,” Russ said. “He got me a couple times, but 90 percent of the time I was pushing him 5 yards back.”
With college football two years away, Russ’s goals are to get stronger improve his technique and take his team back to the state title game, something he got a taste of his freshman year before the Indians fell to Jones in the State Championship game.
Russ came in as a third tackle for Plainview his freshman year, filling in for injury and coming in to block in heavy sets and short yardage situations.
Price said Russ made an eye-popping progression from freshman year to sophomore year. He expects the tackle to make another leap his junior year.
“He’s got a lot of potential, but there’s a long way to go,” Price said. “He’s 16 and even though he looks like a grown man, he’s still growing and developing. Nothing’s certain, so he’s going to have to keep his end of the bargain and keep working like he has. Every day he’s getting stronger, and maxing out more and more. I expect to see another big jump his junior year."