Russo Saluted

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Richard Russo owns this only known complete mini-helmet collection of Mississippi State. The Panolian photo by Angie Ledbetter

Russo saluted as MSU alumni of the month

By Angie Ledbetter

This month the Mississippi State University Alumni Association salutes Richard Russo of Batesville.

The alumni has a strong network of chapters, all of which are led by dedicated individuals who serve on a volunteer basis. Each month they show their gratitude for the men and women who serve the university in this capacity and shares their stories with the fans.

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According to Russo, he has been a Bulldog fan every since he went to his first MSU football game in the sixth grade.

“I became a die-hard fan,” he said. “I still have my first cowbell that I bought in sixth grade when my mother took me to my first college football game.”

Russo continues to remain loyal to his alma mater. He is currently serving his second term as president of the Panola County alumni chapter. Russo previously served as vice president of the Houston, Texas, chapter.

As president, Russo has led his chapter to host many events including two annual send-off parties, two visits from head football coach Sylvester Croom, and dinner with Lady Bulldog Basketball Coach Sharon Fanning.

He also releases a newsletter, “Panola Dogs Bark,” six to eight times a year to inform local alumni about MSU and chapter events.

“Another reason our chapter is so successful is the awesome officers that we have,” he said. “Judd Gentry, Dr. Lisa Newcomb, and Mike Barton are all exceptional people. They are so energetic and hardworking.”

As a student, Russo devoted his time to serving Mississippi State University as an alumni delegate, orientation leader, student association cabinet member and in numerous organizations and honor societies. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity and was voted “Mr. MSU” in 1999-2000 by the student body.

Russo recalls his favorite MSU memories.

“There are so many! But number one has to be a tie between starting the 1999 football season 8-0 and proposing to my wife at Eckie’s Pond.”

Russo met his wife, Sara Bailey Russo, a fourth generation bulldog, while they were both students at Mississippi State University. Sara, a lawyer, and Russo have two children Gabriella, 16 months, and Trey, 7 weeks.

He graduated in 2000 with a degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations and then went on to get his teaching and coaching certifications. He is currently the defensive coordinator for Water Valley High School in Water Valley.

Before that he served as assistant varsity coach and head junior high coach at Bruce High School for five years and spent two years at North Delta School as head coach. Last year Russo was named MPSA District 1A Head Football Coach of the Year by his peers.

The Russos have been season ticket holders since 1996 and travel to as many road games as they can. They even have a maroon and white room in their house devoted to Mississippi State sports.

“It’s my personal sanctuary,” Russo said. “I also have Chicago Bears and high school memorabilia.”

Russo also owns the only full collection of mini MSU football helmets. Each helmet was specially made for Russo’s collection by a helmet maker in South Carolina.

“I have a mini helmet collection of every helmet our team has ever worn. It’s the only full collection that I know of. I also have three large helmets including the last two from Jackie Sherrill’s years and the one Croom’s team uses.”

Russo also has footballs. Last year, he received a signed football from Croom for his 30 birthday, which a close friend gave him.

When talking to Russo his passion for MSU is unmistakable. He truly believes in his maroon and white team.

“The people’s university is very friendly. I love how it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how much money you have. At MSU, I have friends and memories that will last a lifetime, and that’s what I love about it. Mississippi State is a special university and I am very blessed to be a part of it.”

Russo is saluted as the Panola County Dawg this month.