BLACKSBURG, VA., SEPT. 19 -- The beginning of the school year has been a trying one for Virginia Tech safety Damien Russell.
His problems began July 21-22 when he and teammate Jeff Gallman, a redshirt lineman, allegedly attacked Tech student Bernard Jordan at an off-campus party. The fight caused Jordan to seek medical attention at a local hospital and press charges.
Russell, a Washington native and H.D. Woodson High School graduate, later said: "I wish it had never happened. If I could go back to that night I would do things totally different."
Days after the incident, with felony charges of malicious wounding pending, Hokies Coach Frank Beamer suspended both players from the team. After the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery, Russell was reinstated. Gallman was not because, according to a university statement, he failed to meet the "standards expected of a Virginia Tech athlete." That statement classified Russell as "a model citizen."
Gallman pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and was sentenced to 90 days in jail -- with 86 suspended -- and ordered to pay $1,277 in medical bills. In addition, he was fined $500, which was suspended.
Russell's court date is Oct. 10 but it is expected to be delayed because of a witness conflict, according to Russell's attorney, Joe Painter. Russell and Painter declined to comment on the specifics of the incident pending the trial. However, Painter said he was "looking forward to court and the facts getting out."
Russell said the reaction from his teammates has been inspiring. "People that I really don't even know have been coming up and being really supportive," he said. "Everyone's been really positive, other than people telling me that what I did was foolish.
"The only part that has made me change is that it's made me more aware. The awareness is a big part in itself. Just the idea that you can lose so much over something so small . . . If I could go back to that night I would do things totally different. I would have walked away or something."
Prior to being reinstated, Russell had a long conversation with Beamer. "We talked about the consequences over something so foolish," Russell recalled. They also talked about how being on the football team puts players in a high-profile position. "People in the spotlight have to be careful. Other people might be trying to get us in trouble so maybe they can get in a spotlight."
Russell has tried hard to concentrate on football. So far, he's been notably sharp during the Hokies' first three games. Despite tendinitis in his knee Russell has 24 tackles, one shy of the team lead.
Although the ordeal is far from over, the legal aspects have given Russell heightened awareness.
"It made me realize how much I meant to the team," he said. "I thought how I could've wasted my whole future and life over an incident like that."