Brandon Russell is a tough dude — so tough that even his facial hair has a scary nickname.
"I call this 'The Grizzly,' " Russell said as he stroked his beard with a villainous look.
A defensive lineman with a short, muscular build, Russell has also sported a Mohawk and, unlike outgoing teammates Clinton Solomon and Darius Fudge, wears a scowl much of the time. Coach Ken Matous conceded that Russell "acts grumpy a lot."
"I'm down in the trenches," Russell explained, "so I gotta look like a beast."
He has certainly played like one recently.
In fact, Russell has somewhat unexpectedly emerged as a difference-maker from the end position during the Wichita Wild's current Indoor Football League playoff run. After two home victories, Wichita plays at the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Storm tonight in the United Conference championship game.
While undersized at 6-feet and 272 pounds, Russell harassed Bloomington's quarterback throughout the Wild's Round 1 win. Last week, in a victory over Rochester, he finally reached the QB and recorded three sacks — a performance that earned him league player of the week honors.
"The excitement, man, was wonderful," Russell said. "It was a great feeling to explode like that when we really needed it."
The success is a result of Russell's quickness, effort and technique. The 29-year-old speed rusher has perfected the "dip and rip" move that allows him to outmaneuver bigger offensive lineman, Wild defensive coordinator Troy Black said.
"He's not the biggest cat out here, but his heart is 10 times bigger than his size, and he works his butt off," Black said. "He's finally figured out that, when you do things the right way, his size doesn't have to be a disadvantage."
Clearly, Russell is relishing his recent success — he was even witnessed laughing during warm-up drills at a recent practice — because of his difficult regular season.
The Wild has depth at defensive line and, midway through the year, he was benched for five games.
Given his self-described "hard-nosed attitude," it was no surprise that he didn't take the news well. Black said that Russell "threw a couple fits."
Russell makes no apologies.
"It was like a slap in the face," he said of the benching.
IFL players who sit out games don't get paid the $200 per game salary, but Russell remained in town, kept going to practice and resolved to show the coaches he deserved to suit up. The Fort Worth native used what he perceived as a snub as motivation.
"It definitely put a little more gasoline in the tank," he said. "My motor went from a 4.7 to a 5.0."
Russell, who played at MidAmerica Nazarene, still seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder over the benching, and that's likely OK with Wild coaches. An inspired Russell appears to be a productive Russell.
"He was mad when we sat him down, but he didn't pout, and he never quit working," Black said. "And when he got his shot, he didn't blow it."
Watch party — Larry Bud's sports bar, 2120 N. Woodlawn, will host a watch party with the video feed for tonight's game.