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Face of Defense: Football Team Boasts Military Ties

By Army Sgt. Nathan Hastings
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

SHERMAN, Ill., Aug. 27, 2010 – The Springfield Foxes are more than just a central-Illinois semiprofessional football team, thanks to strong military ties.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Jae Russell, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard, draws on his military experience in his role as a defensive end and team captain for the Springfield Foxes, a semiprofessional football team. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nathan Hastings

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Jae Russell, a defensive end and team captain for the Foxes, is a sergeant with the Illinois Army National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters in his hometown of Springfield. He said he draws on his experience as noncommissioned officer in charge of training to help him lead his football teammates.

"The military plays a strong role in leadership, especially being a leader of this team," he said. "Being a [team] captain is overwhelming at times. Everyone is looking at you for answers. I draw on my military experience to help me with these situations."

Though the Foxes are in their inaugural season with the Alliance Football League their 5-4 record heading into an Aug. 14 game put them in a position to make the playoffs, a rare achievement for a first-year team.

Playing for the Foxes sometimes creates conflicts for Russell, but he said he knows which obligation comes first.

"If military obligations and games come into conflict,” he said, “military always wins."

Another member of the Foxes also serves in the National Guard. Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Williams of Sherman is an administrative NCO with the Recruit Sustainment Program Battalion in Springfield. Williams, the special teams coach for the Foxes, said he also believes his training as an NCO is helping him with his role on the football team.

"At this stage of my career, being a NCO, leadership roles in the military help with leadership roles outside of the military," he said. "I was a convoy commander, so I was in charge of 10 to 20 soldiers. This helps with having to coach 11 to 12 guys on special teams."

Williams said he thinks his and Russell's leadership has helped the Foxes to become playoff contenders.

"The team was not a team at the beginning,” Williams said. “Now, it has gelled into a team. Our recent four-game winning streak … comes from learning strengths and weaknesses, knowing each other. This is much like a platoon or squad in the National Guard."

The Foxes staff, coaches and members have many connections to the Army National Guard. Army Sgts. 1st Class Richard Hollinshead and Angela Robinson are the brother and sister of head coach Jake Hollinshead.

"Not a lot of players are Guard members, but we have a lot of connections," Williams said.

The Foxes beat the Chicago Blaze 28-20 in their tenth and final game of the season Aug. 14, extending their winning streak to five games. Williams said he believes Russell gave the Foxes the inspirational speech they needed to hear at a critical point in the game.

"We were down 14 to 0, and Sergeant Russell gave such a great speech, I believe it helped continue our winning streak," he said.


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