WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW)- The Carolina Panthers are fighting for a playoff spot late in the season. A big reason for that? Carolina's defense has been one of the best in the league all year.
Carolina Panthers linebackers' coach Steve Russ on the sidelines in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Panthers linebacker's coach, Steve Russ has a connection to central Wisconsin.
"Oh, it's just very grateful," said Carolina Panthers' linebacker coach Steve Russ. "Grateful to be a part of the Carolina Panthers, to be in the NFL."
Grateful. A word Steve Russ uses multiple times when describing his life. Russ' life has taken many turns, but it all started in Stetsonville, Wisconsin. A small town of about 500 people just outside of Medford.
"When you come from a community that isn't very big, the wonderful thing about that, and I wouldn't have traded for the world growing up that way, is that it is a community," said Russ.
The town of Medford was able to see a young man reel in all sorts of accolades. The journey took him to Air Force to play football. Russ would be drafted by the Broncos, but the idea of coaching wasn't planted into his mind until later in his life.
"You don't really think about coaching when you're playing, because you're thinking about playing," said Russ. "You obviously want to play as long as you can, Reece, but when it was all said and done, I wasn't ready to be done."
From there, Russ couldn't get the itch to coach out of his head.
"My dad was probably my first coach and my mom as well," said Russ. "(They) set that example, and like I said, I've been really blessed to have wonderful coaches throughout the way. Throughout high school, college and in the NFL, and I just caught the bug. I just really really feel like I've always been called to do this."
Now, Russ leads one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL.
"I just try to do the very, very best I can to be a great resource for them," said Russ. "To give them what they need to go out there and be successful, and after that, they do a pretty good job of doing the rest."
The former linebacker has gone through many changes, and the future is still uncertain, but he will always have his roots to look back to.
"I just want to say thank you cause there is a lot of people there, whether it was teachers, coaches, people in the community, neighbors, friends, that really helped all of us," said Russ. "It took a village, and I'm very, very grateful for them to being where I am right now."