I never had the honor of meeting Lucas Russo personally.

My son did. And so did multitudes of others from around the Crossroads area.

Although Lucas and I never met, or even spoke to one another, I feel like I knew the young man while he was still alive.

I feel I know him even better today, five months after his sudden and unexpected death last winter.

Those who knew Lucas loved him. That’s the main thing I have discovered about the young man that left a lasting legacy for good during his brief life. Listening to individuals like his brother, Tishomingo County High School head football coach Richard Russo, Jr., and even my son has led me to believe - without a doubt - that Lucas was a man of faith that lived each day the way we all should … as a beacon of light in a world of darkness.

Lucas passed away on Nov. 9, 2020 from complication following surgery.

He was a mere 24 years of age.

Not long before his death he had given freely of his time to speak to the Tish County High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes about a specific passage in the Bible from Phillipians.

See, Lucas Russo was a young man of faith that trusted in God and lived for Him ever day. No, he wasn’t perfect and yes, he made mistakes. But he learned from his mistakes and encouraged others to do the same.

Thursday, on the campus of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson where he graduated in 2019, Lucas was memorialized and honored as the intramural baseball field was named in his honor. The ceremony included speeches from FHU President David Shannon along with his mother Beverly.

His social Club, Phi Kappa Alpha, otherwise known as Big Red, turned out in masses with both current and former members in attendance to honor and remember their friend.

I sat in the pleasant wind that blew throughout the event on a beautiful spring afternoon and soaked it all in, imagining what it would have been like to have known Lucas. In his remarks, Shannon said, “Lucas Russo was the epitome of an FHU student and a lover of the Lord.”

The University President went on to say, among many other glowing remarks, “Despite all the things Lucas accomplished for the good of everyone that knew him, that’s not the real reason we’re here today. This occasion is all about who he was and how he lived.”

“he lived and loved without reason.”

That saying was printed on the front of nearly every shirt in the crowd as most had purchased the Tee’s to wear especially for the dedication ceremony.

There was another hashtag saying that graced the backs of each t-shirt: “Live Like Lucas.”

“He had the ability to bridge gaps between people of all kinds across campus,” Shannon continued. “He was a burly young man with a big smile that absolutely loved to play sports … especially softball. He seemed to fit in wherever he went and whoever he talked to. His life was short but was extremely deep in character and love.”

His mother Beverly, known simply as ‘Momma’ to Lucas and all his friends that ever met her, spoke with sad but joyous tears as she remembered her son and encouraged those in attendance to Live Like Lucas.

“Lucas and I were very close,” she began. “And yes he was a Momma’s Boy. In fact he won the ‘Momma’s Boys of the Year’ awards four years running while he was here on campus.”

Obviously that is a formulated club to forever honor the memory of Lucas that only he could be responsible for creating.

“He loved to talk, as evidenced by many ‘talks too much’ slips he brought home from school when he was younger,” continued Mrs Russo. “He also loved to laugh and never met a stranger.”

“Oh, and he gave great hugs.”

His Momma added, “My son now has a legacy to leave behind because of this field and everyone who ever knew him.”

She thanked a laundry list of people involved with the college, as well as the those that donated money and time that resulted in a special memorial plaque and the restoration of the field itself. That field now looks much different than it did before with new fencing, padding, a new scoreboard, along with stands and a press box.

In addition, Lucas’ father Richard Sr. and his construction business crew recently built a new multi-purpose pavilion beside the field that also bears the name and likeness of his late son.

A meal was served, and I would have partaken if I had known and hadn’t eaten on my way to Henderson. Freed-Hardeman is also a dear place to me … I graduated there in 1986.

Lucas Russo received a double major in youth ministry and social work. He was a well-known camper and counselor at Maywood Christian Camp as well as Mid-South Youth Camp. He also played intramural softball, wearing No. 19 and playing shortstop.

Thursday, there was an empty chair containing Russo’s actual jersey and glove sitting at shortstop alone. It was a chilling moment for me to witness that but also a feeling of joy to know that Lucas will forever be remembered by FHU students for years and decades to come.

A bronze plaque unveiling, containing a rendering of Russo similar to those of Hall-Of-Fame professional athletes, was held just prior to his family taking the field in different positions while his father took the ceremonial first swing/hit from President Shannon.

By the way, his dad sent a rocket to deep left that would have been a certain base hit in normal game action.

“He still has it,” said Richard Jr. of his father.

To every reader that knew Lucas as a friend or acquaintance, I’m a bit jealous and envious. I know I shouldn’t be but most can figure the reason why. I wish I had met and gotten to know the young Christian man myself before he passed from this life.

Anyone in attendance for the dedication ceremony would surely say that Lucas Russo lived his life for God and made others around him better people for having done so.

I would encourage us all to do what it said on those jerseys … “Live Like Lucas” and “Love Without Reason.”

Just goes to show that athletes and sports-minded individuals can have an enormous impact for good even though they might not be on scholarship or play for a living.

I can assure you that I will do my best to follow the hashtag … “Live Like Lucas.”

Til next time …

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