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Vikings safety Brian Russell, the NFL interceptions coleader
SI: You grew up in Southern California and played quarterback in high school, so why did you go to Penn to play football?
Russell: We had a running team in high school, which didn't do much for a quarterback trying to sell himself to Division I schools. I loved Philadelphia and Penn, but tuition to Penn isn't cheap and I eventually wound up at San Diego State.
SI: Trying to make the team as a free agent in 2001, what did you think when you lined up across from Randy Moss for the first time?
Russell: I never thought much about it. I told myself if I wanted to succeed, I'd have to cover a lot of great receivers.
SI: Mike Tice says you were pretty confident about winning a starting job this year.
Russell: I ran into Coach Tice during the off-season, and he was telling me what he expected of me on special teams. I told him I thought that was great, but that I'd also be his starting safety. Coach Tice is a straightforward coach so I was just being open about my goals. I don't think he took me seriously, which is understandable because it didn't mean anything until I showed him I could do it.
SI: Corey Chavous, your teammate at safety, says you've had success, in part, because you spend so much time studying receivers.
Russell: Corey and I work well together because we prepare thoroughly. That goes for our entire defense. I'd guess we study between 10 and 15 hours of film each week. It helped me get my hands on a couple of balls. We saw that Az Hakim would be a primary target for Detroit when he lined up in the slot, so I cheated to his side a few times and was able to intercept one.