During his junior year, Nikiski senior Nicholas Russell netted seven goals in soccer to tie the school record.
This season, with fellow high-scoring forward Jeremiah Taylor sidelined nearly every game with an injury, it could have been understood if Russell thought his mandate was clear: Score as much as possible to offset the loss of Taylor and break the school record.
Nikiski coach Jim Coburn had something else in mind. Coburn had some players he thought could score up front. What he didn't have were versatile players that could shift from area to area on the field and do whatever the team needed.
Coburn asked Russell to sacrifice his scoring to play in the midfield and even spend some time marking the other team's strikers.
"I've asked him to make the team better in other ways than scoring," Coburn said. "He's OK with that because he's mainly concerned with winning."
Russell's sacrifice paid big dividends for the Bulldogs. With Russell scoring just two goals, Nikiski finished with a 3-2 record in the Southern Division of Region III to earn a No. 2 seed at the region tournament. It was the highest seed in the history of the Nikiski boys program.
"Wherever the team needs me, that's what spot I'm content to fill," Russell said.
Russell proved that again during the first round of the Region III tournament on Friday. With his team down 3-1, he scored a pair of goals to tie the match. Grace, which would go on to win the region title, eventually scored on a penalty kick to end Nikiski's season.
This soccer season was not the first time Russell's unselfish attitude paid off for a Nikiski athletic program. During his junior year, Russell played a major role on Nikiski's record-setting hockey squad.
That year the Bulldogs finished third in the Greatland Conference Tournament, the best finish ever for the program. This came on the heels of a 9-13 regular season in which the Bulldogs set the school record for regular-season victories.
"He was very much an inspiration to the team through his willingness to do what was best for the team and not necessarily what would give him the records," said Al Anderson, who was the coach of the hockey team that year. "The word would be selfless."
Russell has played soccer since second grade and also played three years of football for Nikiski, winning a state title as a sophomore before a nagging knee injury cut his career short. However, the sport for which he harbors the greatest affinity is hockey.
Even though his parents, Pam and Steve, are originally from Michigan and solidly back the Detroit Red Wings, Russell did not tie on skates until the eighth grade, when some friends talked him into giving the sport a try.
"I wasn't too sure as a mom I wanted my son playing hockey," Pam said. "I'm an avid Detroit Red Wings fan and I've seen what happens to those guys."
Russell had played basketball since the second grade, but once he got a taste of hockey, he quickly dropped hoops.
Hurrying to make up for his late start in the sport, Russell played club hockey in the eighth and ninth grades, then started playing for Nikiski as a sophomore.
As a junior, he was helping the Bulldogs to their best season ever. This year, he had 20 points for the Bulldogs.
"When I apply myself, I pick up things pretty quickly," Russell said. "My coaches in eighth and ninth grade helped me out a lot.
"They were always taking me off to the side to show me how to skate forward, backward and turn."
Because Russell has a mature, team-first attitude and is such a quick learner, he also succeeds in other aspects of his life.
He will graduate from Nikiski with a grade-point average of 3.7. He is involved with the National Honors Society at Nikiski. He served as the NHS president as a junior.
Russell said his favorite subjects at Nikiski are physics and chemistry.
Kent Sanders, the physics and chemistry teacher at Nikiski, said Russell was a joy to have in class.
"He had a great sense of humor," Sanders said. "He made class pretty enjoyable.
"He knows when to say something privately, and when to say something publicly."
Russell will graduate in the top 10 percent of his class at Nikiski and has earned a scholarship to the University of Alaska Anchorage. He plans to go there and study engineering.
"He's very serious about his direction," Sanders said. "He knows where he wants to go, and he's doing everything to become a success."
Anderson has a handyman business. Russell worked for Anderson last summer and will work again for Anderson this summer, when he will even get an opportunity to travel to Barrow for a job.
"I've known him as a coach, as an employee, as a student and as a friend," Anderson said. "He has excellent character traits as far as being very concerned about those around him. He's a stand-up type of individual.
"I really can see him as being a very productive member of the community in the future. He's someone who will always be a giver and not a taker."
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.