By Matt Ralph/NPSL.com
While he made a name for himself as a third-team All-ACC selection at Notre Dame last fall, this summer Dan Russo has had a chance to return home and play for his hometown NPSL squad Jackson Lions FC.
Russo, who grew up in Jackson, NJ and graduated from Jackson Memorial High School, has been a fixture in the midfield for the Lions in their push for the postseason. He’s logged 385 minutes and has gone the full 90 minutes in each of his last three starts.
“It’s been awesome,” Russo said of the opportunity to play for his hometown team.
Russo’s connection to the team was already deeper than just geography. Jackson Lions FC owner Mike Durazzo is a family friend of the Russos.
“I love getting to come home and play on fields and play with guys I’ve been playing with for years now,” Russo said.
Russo’s soccer story pre-Notre Dame is firmly rooted in Jackson, an Ocean County township of about 60,000 people that is home to Six Flags Great Adventure and located in the New Jersey Pine Barrons. Russo started playing at the young age of 3, introduced to the sport by his oldest brother. His first team was known as the Jackson Cosmos and was coached by Andy Weinstein.
“He bought me FIFA 10 before his own son because I scored a diving header,” Russo said of his former coach.
The Lions will close the regular season in the Keystone East Conference with a game at Atlantic City FC with huge playoff implications tonight.
Currently tied on points in second place with 18, Jackson needs a result to advance to the conference final against top seed FC Motown. The third-place team in the standings will see their season come to an end.
“What I especially like (about playing in NPSL) is that I get to play against a lot of older guys who are more physical,” Russo said. “It definitely helps develop my game both physically and mentally.”
Prior to Notre Dame, Russo spent a year playing for the New York Red Bulls U19 team and before that starred at Jackson Memorial High School. He wore the armband and was named team MVP his junior year while leading the team to an appearance in the state final.
“Soccer has gotten me recognition I wouldn’t have had without it,” Russo said. “It got me to the University of Notre Dame and will hopefully get me to the professional level once I graduate.”
A positive result against Atlantic City would pit Russo and company up against 2022 NPSL National Champions FC Motown in the Keystone East Conference final on July 15 and further raise his profile heading into his senior season at Notre Dame.
Photo Credit: Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC