John Russ isn’t easily satisfied.
Despite passing for more than 2,000 yards last season and leading an offense that averaged 32.5 points per game, the Mercer quarterback has even loftier numbers in mind for the Bears this season. The Bears scored 40 or more points five times in last year’s 6-6 finish.
“My goal every year for our offense is to do more,” Russ said. “I want to score 40 points per game. We averaged 32 points per game last year, and I want to do even more. I’m not trying to be cocky or anything; I’m just saying that’s what our goal is, and we want to set our goals high for this group.”
With plenty of weapons around him, it’s not a stretch to think the Bears could reach Russ’ target goals.
As a sophomore, he completed 138-of-244 passes for 2,167 yards and 19 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Chandler Curtis, a true freshman at the time, had 28 catches for 564 yards and five touchdowns, and with JT Palmer leaving the program to focus on law school, Curtis is the team’s leading returning receiver.
Marquise Irvin, a freshman from Alabama, gives the team another weapon on the outside, while Josh Jones and Avery Ward also return.
“I’m really excited because I saw what we did last year,” Curtis said. “Now we’re focusing on the finish, and I think we can do a lot of good things this year. Offensively, it’s going to be hard to stop us because we have weapons all over the place. If John can’t read the right side, he can throw left, and if he can’t read the left, he can throw right. So I don’t see us being stopped at all.
“We have focused on what we didn’t do last year and what we can do this year to finish even better.”
The Bears’ passing game got plenty of help from the running game last year, which averaged 203.1 yards per game, led by Alex Lakes. As a redshirt freshman, Lakes ran for 1,107 yards and 17 touchdowns on 200 carries.
“We’ve got a lot of diversity and a lot of speed,” Lakes said. “I think we’re going to be some trouble for defenses to deal with because we have a lot of playmakers. When we’re able to throw the ball, it makes it hard for them to put safeties in the box or try to load up on us, so being a balanced offense is important and trying to keep the defenses on their heels is important.”
The running game could be even more dangerous with a healthy Tee Mitchell, who rushed for 403 yards last year despite nagging injuries throughout the season.
“Tee Mitchell gives us another dimension with his speed, and I really think he’s coming into his own,” head coach Bobby Lamb said. “He’s a guy, Alex and him can give us a really good one-two punch with a big powerful running back and a guy with a ton of speed. That’s going to be a dynamic that is going to be something to watch.”
Lamb is also excited to see the growth of his offensive line after another year in the team’s strength and conditioning program. Russ likes what he has seen from the players who will be protecting him and opening holes for Lakes and Mitchell.
Wilson Heres, one of three seniors on the roster, leads that group.
“The offensive line looks great,” Russ said. “They’re bigger and stronger and faster because they know where to go. They look really good out there, and that’s going to be huge for us this season.”