By Jeff Helfrich/NPSL.com
For the past five months, Shaun Russell commuted two hours each way from his home of Virginia Beach to Richmond with the hopes of earning a pro contract with the USL’s Richmond Kickers.
On Sept. 13, he finally broke through.Russell was signed on by the squad for the remainder of the season. Since graduating from Saint Francis University in 2014, he had been working towards that moment. What makes it even sweeter is that Russell gets to do it at home, in the Virginia area, as he has for most of his amateur career.
“Some people say they want to get away from home,” Russell said. “But me, growing up playing soccer there brings back that whole environment to the youth, that’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.”
Russell spent time in the NPSL with Virginia Beach City FC in 2015. He had a chance to showcase his talent with VBCFC, and it opened doors for him. He was selected to participate in the NPSL Combine by Virginia Beach City Head Coach Brian Hinkey and other coaches.
“Shaun had a great impact on the team when he was here. He has a great work ethic, a ton of athleticism, and commitment,” Hinkey said. “We are happy to play a part in his development, but ultimately it has been his own drive and self-motivation that has most aided him.”
The door that was opened up by Russell’s time at the combine was none other than a chance New York Cosmos B. Among the most historic clubs in the United States, Russell would leave his home area for one of the only times in his career to participate in the 2016 season with the Cosmos.
What followed was the chance to train in an impressive environment and to interact with the Cosmos first team on a daily basis. He made 10 appearances and scored one goal during his time in New York.
Russell has played soccer since the age of four. When he first started, neither of his parents knew anything about the sport. But as he rose through the ranks of rec leagues, to travel teams, to high school and Division I, they quickly became acquainted. His mother has been especially helpful in helping him earn some of his more recent opportunities.“She’s been my biggest supporter,” Russell said. “Helping me film games and promoting me, she did whatever it took to get me to open tryouts whether it was here in Richmond or across the country. She helped me talk with other coaches. She’s just always been there and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.”
It becomes clear shortly after talking with Russell that it’s been a long road for him to the pro ranks. And that he’ll still do anything to advance himself. From emailing Kickers Head Coach David Bulow looking for the chance to be a practice player in April to commuting long hours and signing last month, he’s not going to stop now.
“Coming up on the end of the season, signing for the last couple of weeks, hopefully next year I can get a full season,” Russell said. “And for the future, continue to progress and look forward to playing in the MLS hopefully.”
Photo Credit: Jim Auer and St. Francis University
Photo Credit: Jessica Stone Hendricks