Heart and determination helped Scott Russell become an accomplished football player and wrestler during his days at Altoona Area High School in the mid-1990s.
Another factor in Russell's success as a three-year state tournament qualifier in wrestling and a two-way starting lineman in football was a relentless work ethic that those who knew him well admired most fondly.
Russell, who passed away at age 31 this past Saturday at the Altoona Regional Health System, Altoona Hospital Campus, won a sixth-place medal as a sophomore at 189 pounds in the 1995 PIAA Class AAA state wrestling tournament, and a District 6-AAA championship at 275 pounds as a senior in 1997.
He was a two-year starting football lineman and started on both sides of the line for Altoona's District 6-AAAA football championship team as a senior in 1996.
Russell is survived by his father, Vincent K., Sr., and his mother, Jane C. Russell, both of Altoona. Other survivors include Russell's older brother, Vincent K. Jr., of Newburgh, N.Y., and a nephew, Joseph Russell.
Marty Rusnak, who coached the Altoona High School wrestling program to more than 300 dual-meet victories in 36 seasons, said that Scott Russell was a pleasure to coach.
"Scotty was a great competitor and a great kid to work with,'' Rusnak said. "He worked extremely hard, and I guess that's why he was so successful. He was real quiet and soft-spoken - I don't believe I ever heard him raise his voice, or say anything bad about anybody.
"He will surely be missed, and I feel so bad for his family and extend them my sincere condolences,'' Rusnak added.
Russell won 29 wrestling matches as a junior and posted a 23-3 record as a senior after reaching the semifinals of the state tournament at 189 pounds in his sophomore year. Russell wound up placing sixth in the state that year, showing extraordinary mettle against older, more experienced wrestlers.
"When the whistle blew [to start a match], he went out there and worked hard, and he did what he had to do to win,'' Rusnak said of Russell. "He has to rank as one of the top 10 competitors we've ever had [at Altoona]. Some kids missed practice and they gave you [excuses]. When Scotty was in high school, he never missed practice.''
Mike McKee, 32, who started at cornerback for Altoona's 1996 District 6-AAAA championship football team, graduated from Altoona with Russell in 1997. McKee also remembered Russell as a conscientious, talented athlete.
"He was always happy, always fun to be around, an all-around nice guy,'' McKee said. "He was a tremendous athlete who knew how to work hard. He left it all out on the field, that's for sure.''
Russell, who attended both the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and Edinboro University, was employed as a caretaker at Community Resources for Independent Living Inc., and also worked for the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Good Funeral Home Inc. at Alto-Reste Park Cemetery will be handling funeral arrangements. Friends will be received there from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to the 11 a.m. funeral service Wednesday. Interment will be at Alto-Reste Park Cemetery.