Minium: I've Never Met a More Faithful Football Player With a Bigger Heart Than Blake LaRussa
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
I’m not sure I’ve ever met a nicer, more modest or faithful young man than Blake LaRussa.
Nor have I met anyone who's shown more courage and character on the football field.
LaRussa stands all of 5-foot-10 and has a modest build, in spite of the hours he toiled away in Old Dominion's weight room. That’s why, even after setting all kinds of passing records at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High in Virginia Beach, the quarterback from Chesapeake didn’t have any Division I college scholarship offers.
He walked on at ODU without a scholarship, worked as hard as anyone I’ve seen in his first three years and had little playing time to show for it.
Then, on Sept. 22, 2018, he came off the bench in the first quarter and helped lead ODU to the most memorable victory in Monarch football history.
LaRussa completed 30 of 49 passes for 495 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for another TD, in ODU’s 49-35 victory over Virginia Tech. The nationally televised game was one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football and ODU's first victory over a Power 5 school.
If for no other reason than that one game, which made ODU a college football household name for a week, Blake deserves the admiration of every Monarch football fan.
Blake LaRussa walked on at ODU without a scholarship.
Blake announced the day after Christmas that he’s giving up his last year of eligibility to pursue service to his Christian faith.
He will continue attending ODU in in the spring, with his athletic scholarship intact, courtesy of coach Bobby Wilder, and after graduating from ODU in April. will pursue a Master’s degree in divinity next fall.
"They didn't have to do that," Blake said when I asked him about the scholarship. "I'm very grateful."
Blake said he doesn't have a set road map for his future, but says he wants to be trained as a Christian evangelist.
"I don't feel called to become a pastor," he said. "I want to go into evangelism. That's what I feel called to do, to spread the word about Jesus."
LaRussa used his profile as the team's offensive leader to spread the word. It was common for him to give credit to Jesus Christ during interviews, just as he did following the victory over Virginia Tech.
“Not hard to stay humble cause it wasn’t me,” he said via Twitter. “God moved mountains on Saturday.
“I hope everyone would look at this and realize that Jesus is real and that he loves us and that he has a plan for each of us.
“It was all him on Saturday.”
Blake LaRussa finished second in Conference USA in passing yards per game in 2018.
LaRussa was the same in sharing his Christian beliefs with students at Bishop Sullivan, said Father Dan Beeman, pastor at Norfolk's Holy Trinity Catholic Church and former chaplain at Bishop Sullivan.
"Blake's not Catholic, but he was evangelizing students at Bishop Sullivan," Beeman said. "He was very vocal about his faith, and would talk to anyone.
"He was the star quarterback of a state championship team, and yet there was nobody beyond his reach, nobody he wouldn't talk to.
"I'm so proud of Blake. He understands what God wants him to do and is willing to give up his last year of football to follow his calling. What a great statement that makes about this young man."
LaRussa said his departure has nothing to do with ODU's 4-8 record last season, the shakeup of the coaching staff or the fact that the Monarchs signed two outstanding quarterbacks on last week. He made the decision to move on weeks ago and told Wilder, as well as quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb and offensive coordinator Brian Scott.
"I love football," he said. "I've always loved football.
"But this is something that I just feel God wants me to do. And it's something I want to do. Waiting another year to start just didn't make sense.
"ODU's coaches have been so supportive. They've really been wonderful throughout this entire process."
Regardless of whether you’re religious or not, it’s difficult not to admire Blake and the way he carries himself. He celebrated with teammates after scoring in humble ways that showed joy, but also showed respect for the other team.
It was not unusual for him to simply toss the ball to a ref and jog off to the sidelines.
I was in the locker room after the Tech game, and while his teammates understandably celebrated with passion, Blake calmly walked to the back of the locker room with a smile on his face. He shook a few hands, but his humility was apparent.
Blake made it through the entire season without being injured, and I use the word “injured” loosely. He was often in pain from the many times he was knocked to the ground by blitzing defensive players.
At my request, he showed me his stomach and chest after one practice session, and he was covered in bruises.
LaRussa finished second in Conference USA with 274.1 yards passing per game and third in the league with 3,015 passing yards. He was the only ODU player to be named an honorable mention All C-USA choice.
Quite an accomplishment for a young man no one thought could play Division I football.
Blake LaRussa threw for 495 yards and four touchdowns to lead ODU to a 49-35 upset victory over Virginia Tech.
Whitcomb was the only Division I coach to recruit LaRussa.
"We recruited Blake as hard as any scholarship quarterback, because we saw something special in him," Whitcomb said. "We took a chance on Blake, coach Wilder, myself and ODU.
"He earned a full scholarship in 2016, earned the starting position in 2017 and went on to beat Virginia Tech and earn all-conference honors in 2018. And in April, he will receive his degree from Old Dominion.
"In saying all of that, those accomplishments combined don’t equal the respect I have for who Blake is as a person, and everything he has taught me. Blake has found his passion off the field, and I cannot be more happy for him as a young man.
"Blake will always be a close member of the ODU family."
After the victory over Tech, he said it was his faith that kept him going.
“It’s been an uphill battle since I was a little kid,” Blake said. “I didn’t have a lot of offers, and I’m a short guy, so I get it.
“But we are all given an opportunity in life, and we just have to take advantage of it. For me, it has always been about God. That’s what has allowed me to get through everything.
“I’ve always had bad odds, but no matter what the odds are, God has been my source of faith.”
I suspect the odds have changed for Blake. He was always a good student -- he will graduate with a degree in applied mathematics in May.
And in divinity school, size doesn't count, unless it's the size of your heart, and in that regard, few have a heart bigger than Blake LaRussa.
Contact Minium: email@example.com