Sunny Russell is the president of NU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
By Randy York
The vast majority of Nebraska fans have never been to a rifle meet. Many probably don’t even know the Huskers compete in an Olympic sport so highly specialized that 96 percent of perfection is considered marginally competitive while 98 percent of perfection is NCAA record-setting territory. In that two-percentage point spread is greatness, and Nebraska has a junior Air Rifle, Small Bore shooting specialist from Stratford, Texas, who not only is taking aim at her sport, but also shooting higher for all 600-plus student-athletes at Nebraska.
Meet Sunny Russell, who this week was elected president of Nebraska’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). That means Russell looks at total student-athlete development in terms of lifetime success because she, in essence, leads the group that is considered “the voice” of all student-athlete experiences. Talk about a talented young lady who exemplifies the student-athlete experience.
“Sunny is one of those people who any coach would enjoy having on your team,” Nebraska Rifle Coach Stacy Underwood said. “She’s obviously very coachable and also has the personality that her teammates respect. She really embraces leadership and likes to help others. She looks at SAAC as one very important way she can pursue leadership while she’s still in college.”
Sunny lights up a room when she walks in. “Her name reflects her personality,” Underwood said. “She’s all sunshine and makes everyone’s day a little bit better. Everyone who has ever been around her knows it’s going to be good attitude and good vibes all the way around with her.”
Underwood also knows that Nebraska Athletics is loaded with capable leaders, but few match Russell’s skill sets. “Maybe it’s because her personality isn’t overbearing,” Underwood said. “She just seems to be a little bit more open to others. So much so that others feel they can communicate easily at any time. I think Sunny will be a great liaison between the athletes and the Athletic Department and everyone else she will communicate with in the Big Ten.
“Sunny just has that humble attitude,” Underwood added. “She doesn’t take life so seriously, but clearly understands when things have to be very serious. She communicates very well and interacts well and connects with all the student-athletes around her. They see her as a great advocate for them and as someone who will be on their side and represent them very well.”
Given Nebraska’s high level of success in academics, athletics and life skills, leadership is crucial. “Sunny sees the vision of Nebraska Athletics very clearly in terms of honoring tradition and making sure we have a top-notch program all the way around and making sure that our student-athletes are well taken care of,” Underwood said. “I’m confident that her perspective and her leadership will lead to some positive changes in different ways.”
Keith Zimmer, the associate athletic director who leads NU’s Life Skills program, is equally confident in SAAC’s new leader. “Sunny will thrive in the president’s role,” he said. “She’s an excellent facilitator. She’s inclusive, caring, genuine and committed to excellence in all that she does.”
Zimmer, however, points out that SAAC’s other three recently elected officers also will play pivotal roles. Ryan Grassel, a junior golfer from Chesterton, Ind., will serve as vice president of SAAC. Mattie Fowler, a sophomore infielder on Nebraska’s softball team from Tucson, Ariz., will be SAAC’s Big Ten representative from Nebraska. Jake Griess, a sophomore shot put/discus/hammer thrower on the Husker men’s track and field team, will lead SAAC’s community outreach efforts.
Interestingly, three of the four SAAC officers have siblings who also compete in college athletics. Russell’s brother, Rustin, is a member of the rifle team at Memphis. Grassel’s brother, Kyle, plays golf at the Colorado School of Mines, and Fowler’s sister, Kenzie, is a two-time senior All-America pitcher for the Arizona Wildcats.
We’ve all heard how leaders are people who see more than others see, see farther than others see and see before others see. If that’s true, then this SAAC team should get a head start because whenever they huddle up with family members this summer, they will be honing their leadership skills for the fall. “This is a solid group of leaders,” Zimmer said. “They will accomplish a lot of great things over the next year.”
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