Mariner Graduate KeiVarae Russell’s NFL Journey


Darrell Johnson

Keivarae Russell at a Seahawks game that he was invited to by the Seahawks. (November, 2010)

Miguel Hernandez (He,Him), Advertising Specialist

Mariner High School has had very few student athletes make it to the NFL, the league that many young athletes dream to reach. KeiVarae Russell is one that made it. 

“It was tough,” said Russell, a cornerback for the New Orleans Saints. “The challenges I had to overcome were, ‘What was success? What decisions should I make?’ I didn’t have that blueprint that told me what success was.” 

Becoming a pro athlete is a hard journey that not everyone can do and that not everyone accomplishes. Being an athlete is not only physically demanding but is also very emotionally demanding. Sports like football require so much effort, especially to make it to a high level like the NFL.  

Someone who knows about this process is Russell. He is currently in the NFL. While at Mariner, Russell played the running back position, and in his senior season he went on to run for 1293 yards and 14 TDS. These insane numbers got him offers from Oregon, Notre Dame, and many other Division-1 football programs. 

In the end, Russell committed to the University of Notre Dame where he switched to the cornerback position. He played three seasons for Notre Dame and started all 37 of his games.

While at Notre Dame he finished with 169 tackles, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, and 2 pass deflections. After 3 seasons with Notre Dame, he entered the 2016 NFL Draft where he was drafted 74th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. 

In September 2016, he was signed to the Cincinnati Bengals off waivers where he has spent most of his NFL career. He has since been jumping from team to team and signed for the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, and now more recently he is currently on the New Orlean Saints.

“On the physical side, I’ve also had a lot of injures,” Russell said. “I had injuries in high school — ankle sprain and concussion. I had a couple of concussions in college. I broke my leg in college, got to the league, and had some other injures. So injuries were the biggest problem for me truthfully.”

Physical injuries aren’t the only thing that athletes have to deal with; The mental health of athletes is topic that’s also becoming more relevant. 

Russell said he’s battled his own mental health issues along the way.

“I’ve been through my own fair share of depression and anxiety,” Russell said. “I’ve been through my own fair share of mental doubt you know, even though I’ve acquired a lot of success in terms of financially where I’m at, spiritually where I’m at, the people I know, the status I’ve acquired, if you measure my success in that regard then yes you would say I’m successful.”

Russell knows that young athletes should seek that extra support.

“I just wanna tell young people, get the help if you need it to find someone to vent to and talk to,” Russell said. “Don’t just hold things in and go day by day and ignore your mental health.” 

I also asked Russell if he felt any sort of accomplishment coming out of  Mariner and being one of the few to get to the NFL.

“Yeah absolutely,” Russell said. “I’m humble, respectful, but I’m not going to lie I do feel accomplished. You know I was one of 5 to ever go to the NFL out of Mariner, but I also made every sacrifice that every high school kid should’ve made to make it there.”

Russell was also asked about any advice he would give to the young generation of athletes.

“ You have to strive to be irreplaceable, that’s the biggest thing I wanna tell you,” Russell said. “If the coaches tell you to play running back then play running back, but be the best at playing running back. Once you are the best at running back you have a little bit of leverage to say, ‘hey coach I wanna play a little bit of receiver too’ because you already showed them that you could do that role. … So you gotta realize that it’s about being irreplaceable.” 

Toward the end of the interview, I asked Russell about his goals moving forward.

“I wanna be able to stay on an NFL team and be irreplaceable,” Russell said. “In terms of actual goals I wanna be able to start on an NFL team, any NFL team. I wanna be able to start on special teams, be the best on special teams, and then be able to get a spot at cornerback.”