From elementary school through high school and into the professional level, there's one thing that everyone who has ever stepped foot on a court, pitch or field has in common: the love of the game. But what would you do if your body stopped you from doing what you loved the most? That's a question only the fortunate never have to face, but maybe only the strongest have to answer.
The Florida Gators and head coach Dan Mullen recruited defensive back Randy Russell out of Miami Carol City High School in 2017. Entering the 2018 season, as is customary for all players, Russell was given a standard pre-participation physical. What the Florida medical staff found shocked everybody and ended the promising young safety's college football career before it even began.
Russell was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that thickens the walls of his heart and restricts blood flow to the body's most vital organ. The risks include the heart valves closing, which could lead to an instant cardiac arrest, and it signaled an immediate medical disqualification, ending his football career.
If you think a heart condition is going to stop the 5-foot-10, 180-pound defensive back from working to once again play the game he loves, and pursuing his NFL dream, then you don't know Randy Russell.
This story from The Players' Tribune on Russell's rise to become one of Florida's top rated recruits in 2018, all the way to the news of his diagnosis, shows how impressive of a young man Randy Russell really is.
Choosing between sacrificing the end of an athletic career in favor of living with the constant pressure that life could end at any moment? That's a choice I wouldn't wish on anybody, but it speak volumes to how big of a heart Randy Russell really carries inside of him.
The three-star recruit coming out of high school in Opa Locka, Florida was rated as a top-100 player in the state of Florida and was verbally committed to play at Miami before flipping late in his senior year to Dan Mullen's Florida Gators. He also had offers from Louisville, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina, among many others.
After his diagnosis back in January 2018, Russell posted this message to his Twitter page.
You'll probably see Russell and Gators linebacker Vosean Joseph knelt together during their pregame prayer in the end zone, a tradition that has bonded the two Gators forever.
And yes, Randy Russell will always be a member of the University of Florida Gators football program.
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