Blog & Calendar

January Halftime Report - Coach Russell Shelley

Kim Gendron, Social Media Coordinator

When the CCES Varsity Boys Soccer team announced that Russell Shelley, MS English Teacher, was the new head coach this fall, it just made sense. Russell, who, with his background in the military and decades of experience playing and coaching soccer, is the perfect blend of drill sergeant and mentor. He emphasizes discipline on the field, with former players joking that he sometimes ran practices like they were Army boot camp, but they all knew how much he cared about them as people at the end of the day. He expects much, but he gives much, and through being true to who he is and who he has always been, Russell will no doubt make a great program even better.
Russell’s soccer career started in Sumter, SC, a small town that did not offer much in terms of soccer development. However, because of the Air Force base located in town, Russell was able to learn from international players whose families were stationed there, and saw “the proper way the game was supposed to be played.” He was immediately drawn to the “blend of athleticism and tactical strategy” required to play at a high level. There was both structure and independence, technical skills and creativity.
He was recruited to play collegiately and settled in at Lander University, a program in just its second year at the time. It was at Lander that he got his first taste of coaching, when they were looking for players to help at the local high school. He immediately loved it and wanted to figure out a way to make it a part of his future plans.
Russell graduated from Lander with a degree in business, but realized pretty quickly it wasn’t the field for him. He enlisted and served in United State Armed Forces for six years, from 1988-1994. He credits his time in the military for helping him to “embrace the details, understand the importance of unity, and working together for a common goal,” lessons he emphasizes with his players and teams on the field.
After his time in the Army, he went back to school for a degree in English, and was looking forward to a career as a teacher and coach. His first job was at his alma mater, Sumter High School, and it was during that time that he met Andrew Hyslop. They were both helping with the Olympic Development Program (ODP) in the summer, and Andrew knew right away that Russell was a coaching gem. Andrew was in Greenville working for what was then Greenville Football Club (GFC), which became CESA (Carolina Elite Soccer Academy) in 2004, and wanted to have Russell join him. After a couple of years of subtle recruiting, Russell made the move to Greenville, and in 2004 he started coaching with CESA and teaching at CCES.
In the twenty years since, Russell has taught 8th grade English at the CCES Middle School, and coached three different age groups of ECNL, which is widely considered the most elite and productive youth soccer league in the nation. For nine months every year, Russell was coaching three of the top soccer teams at CESA, while also balancing teaching full-time.
When Russell first came to CCES, he thought it might be a short stint before he transitioned back to public schools. However, he quickly fell in love with being a part of the CCES community. He says, “Everything about the school just fit with me.” He also thought he might make the transition to teaching at a high school level, but when the opportunity presented itself, he decided that 8th grade was the perfect spot for him. It’s an important transition year for students, and he loves being a part of that process. Russell enjoys the challenge of adapting his English curriculum to keep it current, while also cherishing the traditions that make CCES special – the annual 8th grade trip to Disney, cheering on the seniors at the end of the year, and watching his own two daughters (Ally, CCES Class of 2013 and Hannah, CCES Class of 2016) graduate just to name a few.
For Russell, coaching and teaching have been two different paths for accomplishing the same goal – shaping students and impressing upon them important lessons that will serve them well in life beyond school. He says, “We’re not just coaching soccer, we're also coaching people.” Russell plans to maintain the standard of excellence that has been established through prior teams, pointing to the streak of state championships from 2001-2011 under Coach David Wilcox (inducted into the CCES Hall of Fame in 2021). However, he also recognizes the additional responsibility he carries for shaping his players into being better people – individuals who are disciplined, organized, empathetic, and good teammates to one another. He says, “It’s all about the process, and I’m excited to see where the team is at the end of the season.”
Those who know Russell are excited about him taking over at CCES. Andrew, the one we can credit with getting Russell to Greenville and current co-Executive Director at CESA, says, “Russell has such a natural knack for taking a group of individuals and bringing them together as a team. He cares deeply about players, taking a sincere interest in each and every one of them, while also instilling discipline in the group.”
CCES alums, Hampton Hughes ’23 and Joji Ejiri ‘23 both played for Russell on the ECNL teams at CESA, while also winning back-to-back state titles with CCES. They both speak highly of Coach Shelley, describing the high standards he had for their teams. He ingrained a “winner’s mentality,” through emphasizing technical skills and attention to detail, while also shaping his players to respond well to adversity on the field. Hampton and Joji are certain that players who have the privilege of being a part of the CCES Boys Soccer program under Russell’s leadership will be better for it.
Hampton calls Russell “one of the best in the business,” noting his uncanny ability to adapt the styles of play to best fit the strengths of his teams. He says, “I cannot say enough about how much better he made me as a player and how well he prepared me for the college game.”
Joji says, “Coach Shelley brought out nothing but the best in every player he has coached.” Russell’s strong values and high standards resulted in success on the field – a national championship final and two other national playoff spots in a three year span – while also creating a sense of family on the team.
Melissa Hughes, CCES Director of Instructional Technology, has had a unique perspective of witnessing Russell’s impact on all students he works with, both in the classroom and on the field. They initially met as MS colleagues twenty years ago, and then with a different dynamic of soccer parent and coach when Hampton started playing for Russell in the 8th grade. She credits Shelley with developing her son into a skilled, yet disciplined player and helping pave the way for Hampton’s recruitment into Davidson University’s Men’s Soccer program. Melissa says, “Russell’s mentorship goes beyond the game, leaving a lasting impact on my son’s character, for which I am forever grateful.”
CCES Boys Soccer has already started practices and will kick off their season in just a few short weeks. Russell will no doubt demand a lot out of them, but make them better players and people because of it. The journey is just getting started, but Coach Shelley is excited about the  process of growth and seeing how far this team goes by the end of the season.
To follow along with the Boys Soccer season, click here for their schedule! Go Cavs!   
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