What former Minooka football coach Mike Briscoe saw in high school, former University of Illinois coach Ron Turner nourished and then gave over to current Illinois coach Ron Zook in college. Now it’s time for the St. Louis Rams and perhaps the rest of the NFL to see what Minooka graduate Russ Weil can do on the gridiron.
After playing out his NCAA career for the Illini at the 2008 Rose Bowl, Weil was secretly being coveted by at least one NFL coach who thought he was special. Though with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their running backs/assistant head coach at the time, Art Valero, who now holds the same title with the Rams, recalls seeing Weil and thinking that he may have the stuff it takes to compete in the NFL.
“What’s incredible is that the college season is at the same time as ours and because of that, you only get glimpses of people during the course of the season while they are on television … I was watching this kid (Weil) and said that’s someone who’s interesting,” Valero said. “I knew he was someone who, once we got to the evaluation process, I needed to keep an eye on and look out for. That’s because not a lot of fullbacks are invited to the combine and you have to go out and find them. They just don’t run the fullback in college offenses anymore.”
Eventually, Valero’s interest in Weil and former Illini running back Rashard Mendenhall (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers) came together at one practice. Mendenhall was getting eyed up for his 1,681 yard, 17 TD running back season and Weil for the job he did in blocking for him.
“I have a couple of friends on the Illinois staff and had the chance to bounce some things off of them and talked about Russ. Then, when I went up to work out Mendenhall and Russ worked out as well,” Valero said. “He caught everything thrown to him, both good balls and bad balls, balls off the ground, balls over his head.”