Counting down the ACC's top 30 players: No. 26

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

26. John Russell, DT, Wake Forest, 6-4, 280

Why he's here: Every practice and every play is like fourth-and-1 to this guy. The fifth-year senior will be a veteran leader up front for the Demon Deacons, and he's got the potential for a breakout season considering the mass exodus on his side of the ball. Russell started all 13 games at defensive tackle last year. Boo Robinson will get a lot of attention this season, and deservedly so, but he was out this spring with an injury and those within the program have been equally, if not more, impressed by Russell.

As a coach's son, football has been Russell's whole life. He's a lot like Aaron Curry in regards to his work ethic, study of the game and knowledge of the game. He's a little undersized, but very athletic and uses it to his advantage. He's very quick and a great pass-rusher.

Russell finished 2008 with 38 tackles (17 solo), seven tackles for loss, and was second on the team with four sacks. I watched Russell specifically for a few plays with my binoculars against Clemson last year (I had heard he was ready to rock in that game), and he manhandled the Tigers' O-line. He led the defense with two sacks in that game. Russell also had one pass breakup and two forced fumbles on the season. Look out for No. 51 in '09.