Photo: Glencoe High School senior Taylor Russell signed a soccer scholarship on February 15 with Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Ga. Pictured, sitting, from left: brother Colt, mom Angie, Taylor, dad Chris. Standing, from left: Joel Hawbaker, Mike Morris, GHS girls soccer coach Craig Smith, Bill Martin, GHS girls soccer coach Daniel Cook, Wes Patridge. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Taylor Russell was aware that the knee injury she suffered last fall in travel ball would limit the number of soccer scholarship offers landing in her mailbox.
It turned out that a 1,000-member Christian college in northeast Georgia laid out the welcome mat for the Glencoe High School senior, torn ACL and all.
On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Russell signed with Division II Emmanuel College, fulfilling a dream Russell has harbored since competing in the Tiny Tots League as a four-year old.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to play [in college], and I’m lucky that I still had an offer on the table after I got hurt,” said Russell, who plans on majoring in sports management. “It was rough, because it was the second surgery I’ve had, and I knew what was coming.
“My biggest worry was that I wasn’t going to play in college, because a lot of [college] coaches won’t take on players that are hurt. But I had a couple of colleges stick around, so it’s nice to be wanted.”
Russell “just fell in love” with Emmanuel when she visited the campus.
“I got to meet a few of [women’s soccer] players, and they were so nice and so sweet and so welcoming,” she said. “The campus is really pretty, and they just built a new athletic facility. I’m extremely grateful for my family and all of my coaches standing behind me. They’re the reason I’ve developed such a love for the game and why I am where am today.
Holding down the starting centerback position since the seventh grade, Russell helped the 2020 and 2021 Lady Yellow Jackets go 25-3-1. She was named to the All-Greater Gadsden Area girls soccer team in both seasons. Last year, Glencoe went 18-2 and was ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 for most of the regular season in Class 3A. Russell was a team captain and anchored a defense that only allowed 13 goals in 20 games. In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, she helped the GHS defense post five shutouts in nine games.
Glencoe is currently ranked No. 7 in Class 1A-3A.
“I hate what happened for her missing this season, but Taylor’s been a joy to be around,” said GHS girls soccer coach Craig Smith. “I have full confidence that she’ll completely recover and not only be the player that she was but get even better. Taylor’s leadership is her number one quality. She’s been a leader in our program for three full years, and she’s really taken on that role. She’s always at practice, she’s always enthusiastic, she always gives you 100 percent and she’ll always deliver on anything you ask of her. There was never anything that Taylor couldn’t handle, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d be playing major minutes in college during her first year.”
Russel joins an Emmanuel squad that has qualified for the postseason seven of the past eight seasons. The 2021 Lady Lions went 5-11-1 overall and 4-8-1 in the Conference Carolinas.
“Taylor’s always been a hard worker, and she’s overcome a lot of injuries,” said GHS girls soccer coach Daniel Cook. “So today is a testament to her fortitude and work ethic.”
“Obviously Taylor is a gifted player on the field, but I’ve also seen her help her teammates in turning ne-gative situations into positive ones,” said Bill Martin, Director of Coaching at the local Alabama Rush soccer club. “That’s a huge compliment her, both a as player and a person.”
Joel Hawbaker, Taylor’s former club coach and Westbrook Christian girls soccer coach, said that Russell was “a coach’ dream.”
“Taylor’s a great player who works hard and has a great attitude,” he said. “I never had to worry about her giving 100 percent effort or whether she would do the right thing or not.”