IN FOCUS: Russell Gage
Communications Student Assistant
Don’t tell Russell Gage that he is undersized.
Standing six feet tall and weighing in at just more than 180 pounds, Gage isn’t the most physically imposing receiver on the field. Size at that position can be overvalued sometimes, though.
“The thing is, it’s how you play the game at receiver, big or small,” explained LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph. “You can be big and soft. Or you can be small and you can be like dynamite.”
Gage overcomes his size by playing the game with a tough mentality. He’s also a veteran in a generally young group of receivers. Prior to his junior year, though, Gage wasn’t a receiver. He was playing in the defensive backfield for the Tigers before he made to switch to wideout.
Using his knowledge from playing defense, Gage has improved rapidly as a receiver. When Joseph first saw him play this past spring, he saw a player who was raw at his position, mainly because he hadn’t played there since high school. Now he sees a player who’s right where he should be. After games against BYU and Chattanooga to open the season, Gage was second on the team in receptions and yards with five and 56, respectively.
As a receiver, Gage has been able to use the knowledge he gained as a defensive back to improve his offensive ability.
“Playing defensive back definitely helped a lot with reading coverages and recognizing alignments with corners and safeties,” said Gage in the LSU team meeting room. “I would say I have a slight edge when it comes to running routes because of that.”
Drawing from past experiences has surely helped Gage improve as a receiver. Another thing that has helped him achieve while being a smaller receiver is his technique.
“I’ve watched a lot of tape,” explained Gage. “Antonio Brown. Odell Beckham Jr. A lot of smaller guys, how they get open, how they get off the press, footwork. Footwork is key. I’ve been working on that a lot.”
Finding open space is just the first part of playing receiver. Then, you have to make the catch, and ultimately you’re expected to create some plays for yourself. Few guys can go out there and run through somebody. Many guys might rely on a juke, a stutter-step or a spin move. Gage has his own move that isn’t as widely used as the others in football, but for him it has proven to be very effective. The hurdle.
It’s a move that Gage says he did all throughout his career at Baton Rouge’s Redemptorist High School. Whenever he sees the defender try to take him out low, he reacts with a big leap. A level-headed guy, Gage admits he might admire what he just did for a quick second, but he soon moves on to the next play.
Defending a player with such a rare move can be difficult. Nobody wants to be the guy that gets hurdled, especially when it comes time to break down film. Another thing that the move achieves is it protects his lower body.
“The defense knows one thing; they can’t go low on him,” explained Joseph. “He protects his knees.”
Late in the season, that may prove to be very valuable for Gage in keeping him healthy. Joseph said that fans should expect him to get better and better every week as he shows up to practice every day working hard.
It isn’t unusual to have small players play huge roles for the Tigers. Gage’s favorite player to ever don the Purple and Gold is Tyrann Mathieu, aka the “Honey Badger.”
“Size really didn’t matter to him,” said Gage of Mathieu. “He was a go-getter no matter what, a real role-model you could say.”
As a Baton Rouge native, Gage describes playing for LSU as a dream come true.
“It feels great to play for LSU,” explained Gage. “Everyone grew up with you and now you’re here on the big stage with everyone watching you. It feels great.”
Gage is excited for the remainder of the season and says fans should expect the Tigers to stay on the incline. The sky is the limit.
Gage is doing what he has to in order to make an impact for LSU on the field. He doesn’t think much about his size, but he understands what he needs to do because of his stature to allow himself to achieve.
Don’t blink, he might jump right over you.