Biggest reasons why Keelon Russell is still committed to SMU despite staff turnover

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Whether you know him as “Dot’em,” “Pres,” “Kruss,” or simply just Keelon, the starting quarterback for the two-time defending 6A Division I state champion Duncanville Panthers plans to bring dual-threat athleticism, and plenty of nicknames, to the next stage of his career.

One of the winningest quarterbacks in the state, Class of 2025 top 80 recruit Keelon Russell is the future of Dallas’ best college football program. But sticking with his commitment to SMU has been something on his mind since his commitment in September  2023.

“I’m in the position where I’m looking at things, other schools, still exploring,” Russell said about his current commitment. “Right now, obviously, I’m still connected, still committed with SMU.”

One of the biggest shocks for Russell came when his main recruiter, former Mustangs Quarterback Coach Jonathon Brewer, took over as Duke’s offensive coordinator in December.

But Brewer wasn’t the only surprise exit from the staff. Khenon Hall, SMU’s associate head coach and running game coordinator for the past two seasons, moved on to the same position at Baylor.

“Those two, when they left it was like…. Jesus,” Russell said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

But SMU still had a wildcard that would ultimately keep Russell interested in the ACC’s newest member. D’Eriq King, a familiar name to contemporary college football fans, had spent the last season working as an offensive analyst with the Mustangs. Already moving up the ladder, the now 26-year-old former Houston Cougar star took over the reins as the new quarterback coach, much to the joy of Russell.

“When Coach King came into the building it was just like, ‘OK, I trust you dude,’” Russell said. “I wasn't giving up on my family yet. I still stood in there strong.”

Russell and King could be an electric combo on The Hilltop. Russell has already proven himself a winner, leading Duncanville to back-to-back 6A Division I state championships. He completed 72 percent of his passes for 3,483 yards and 38 touchdowns and only three interceptions, while also running for 361 yards and six TDs in 2023. He accounted for 25 scores (22 passing) in 2022.

While his handling of Duncanville’s offense looked easy, it actually took a while for him to find his footing.

Early in the Panthers’ first game of the 2022 season, Russell was subbed in as a backup against rival South Oak Cliff, which would go on to win a state championship itself that season.

“I was overly nervous, I was shaking,” Russell said. “It was one of those games that was up to the quarterback to make the play…. A lot of stuff was going through my head. I was stuck.”

Thankfully for Russell, now-LSU four star running back Caden Durham was there for him. Despite throwing an interception in his first reps as a varsity starter, Russell's team stood behind him. Durham broke off a 99-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter, breaking the scoreless streak and giving Russell his confidence back. 

“When he scored it was just… ‘Thank You,’” Russell said.

Russell reeled himself in, eventually throwing the game-winning touchdown to find his “start to greatness” for one of Texas’s best programs.

He hopes to lead Duncanville to a three-peat with help from five-star wide receiver Dakorien Moore (an LSU commit) and fellow SMU pledge Daylon Singleton, whom Russell has played with since little league. In the Panthers’ lone loss of 2023 against DeSoto, Singleton scored twice on 179 yards receiving and had over 100 yards in returns.

“I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Russell said. “That’s one of the main reasons I’m still going to SMU.”


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