Good things come to those who wait.
I don't know if that's true or not, but it's certainly true for Russell Gage. Month after month LSU toiled away in pursuit of high profile defensive back prospects like Tony Brown, Hootie Jones, and Adoree Jackson. It's not that LSU came up entirely empty handed. No that's entirely not the case, as they wound up with a crew of defensive backs that rank amongst the best in the country. It's just that they had hoped for even more. Tony Brown, for one, was frequently tossed about as an LSU "lock" up to the moment he spoke the words "Alabama" during his commitment ceremony.
All the while, Russell Gage pulled a Dory right there in LSU's backyard.
The glory days of Redemptorist High School football are long gone. Just four short years ago they won 11 games and featured superstars like Jeremy Hill and La'El Collins. Head Coach Guy Mistretta built Redemptorist into a powerhouse, only to leave for a position at Livonia after winning only four games in two years, including a winless season in 2012. Terence Williams took over last season, but only brought on two more victories.
Russell Gage knows both losing and winning. As a freshman in 2011 his alma mater won 11 games. As a senior, with him as a leader, only two. This is not to say his poor leadership lead to a decline in the program's success so much as to bring attention to the disarray that surrounded the program.
Through a high school program in decline and a dream college program otherwise ignoring him, all Gage did was excel. Like a trooper, he did as asked, playing quarterback for his squad. He threw only three touchdowns to six interceptions, proving his future wasn't manning an offense. Despite it all, he rushed for over 1,000 yards with14 rushing scores. He played corner and welcomed every challenge. The morale of the story is that if you ask Gage to do something, he'll exceed every expectation.
That Russell Gage held out for so long is testament to his dedication to dream fulfillment. Sure, Tulane, La. Tech, ULL and other local programs came calling, but Gage stayed true, believing LSU would eventually recognize his ability. Not until January 29th did Gage commit, a seeming back-option. Just days letter he signed his letter of intent.
247 sports considers Gage a composite 3-star ATH, worth a .8517 rating. The project dictates him a future solid starter, and that's something I can't disagree with.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
Tale of the Tape
Gage is already listed as a defensive back and he seems to make the most sense as a corner. His height and weight aren't exceptional, but they aren't poor either. There's a good chance he'll take a RS in 2014, which means by the time he's asked to play, he'll be closer to 200 pounds. Regardless, Gage will never win by being the biggest and strongest player on the field. He's solid at just about everything, including his measurables.
Strengths: Hands, Agility/Quickness, Instincts, Tough Hitter, Return Skills, Leaping
Hands: Russell Gage can really, really catch. He doesn't have the best hands in this class, that honor belongs to Malachi Dupre, but this kid can really catch the football. He can catch it at difficult angles, in the air, on the ground, it really doesn't matter. That could lead to him seeing snaps at WR if there's a need. Watch 6:00. Watch 6:08 and see his WR-like ball skills. Scales up and snags the ball with his hands. 6:23 the kid can catch. 6:37 he attacks the football. 8:30 and this is becoming routine. 10:17 with a high degree of difficulty, and it's really no problem.
Agility/Quickness: I can't get a great feel for his long speed, but he gets going really quickly. He's got start/stop ability and quick feet that allow him to break down defenders and take huge gains. Look at 3:04 and how he explodes in the run. It's lateral quickness too, and the ability to jump and cut. Watch him make defenders look silly at 4:04. This should translate well to playing DB.
Instincts: Gage seemed to play mostly S at the HS level, and his intelligence shows up on tape. He does a good job of reading the QBs eyes and flowing to the football, which leads to big hits or INTs. Watch 7:08 for an example of that. 7:37 you can see a bit of it as well, though you don't see him until a bit later into the highlight. The ball is lollipopped but he's reading it all the way.
Tough Hitter: He's pretty fearless as a hitter, and willing to throw his body around. 8:44 is the best example of his pure tackling ability. Really good technique and explodes through the hit. 8:55 he makes another tough tackle. 9:08 he really lays a big blow. We demand our CBs can tackle, so it's important he not only be willing, but able.
Return Skills: He returned kicks too. Check out 5:05 and 5:23. Considering his quick cutting ability, he seems suited for punt returns for me.
Leaping: If you've watched the above clips, you've seen him leap some, but here's a couple of GIFs of him in action:
I don't know what his standing vertical is, but he seems to have explosive leaping ability.
Technique/Experience: He'll need to get up to speed on the finer parts of playing DB, but we could have said the same about Mo Claiborne and that turned out just fine. He seemed to play mostly safety in HS.
Russell Gage is a guy a lot of hardcore recruitniks really hoped would land an offer. That offer did not come through until the end of January, just a week or two before signing day. Despite other state schools pursuing him, Gage immediately pounced on the offer from his dream school.
Every prospect that gets a scholarship from LSU earns their offer. But Russell Gage takes that a step further. He never wavered in what he wanted the outcome of his recruitment to be. He didn't entertain many other visits, even to local suitors. He wanted LSU long before LSU wanted him. So he put in the work. He dreamed and prayed about it. He played 1,400 snaps doing every thing his coaches asked. He didn't get wined and dined for it. Hell, he hardly got noticed.
My initial impressions of Gage were not overwhelming. A D1 prospect? Yes. A decent little player? You betcha. LSU material? Ehhhh. Then I found another highlight reel, this time showing him playing defensive back. It clicked for me. Now I find myself wondering what all the waiting and seeing was about? Russell Gage can play.
He reminds me a bit of Chevis Jackson. Chevis was 6'0", 184 his senior year. Gage is currently 6'0" 175. I think he might be a bit more athletic than Chevis, though I don't think he'd blow any doors off in testing times. That said, I simply don't know because that information isn't out there. He looks pretty darned athletic to me.
The major thing he'll have to combat is the influx of DB talent currently on campus and still coming. Like it or not, the coaches are going to give their first attention to the bigger name prospects they recruited. He's got to make a name for himself the moment he puts the pads on, so he doesn't get passed by the likes of Ed Paris this season and Kevin Toliver and Xavier Lewis next. That said, Russell Gage has never shied away from a challenge. He's familiar with playing the game with the odds stacked against him. Russell Gage knows how to work to get what he wants. So I'm not counting him out of anything.
High End: CB starter, good punt returner.
Low End: Special teamer and DB depth.
Realistic: I just have this funny feeling that Gage will make a name for himself at LSU. Not sure how or where, but his character and work ethic really stand out to me in a class full of guys with great character and work ethic.