UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Recruitment of Wilson anything but a rush to judgment


UW coach Bret Bielema had to deal with an old cliché and time-honored debate -- perception versus reality -- during the recruitment of former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson.

The Badgers have always been fair game for stereotyping.

Call it a "rush'' to judgment.

"I had to battle that because that's all he (Wilson) kept throwing in my face,'' Bielema said. "I think other schools (recruiting Wilson) were using that against us.''

"That" being what?

"We're a run-oriented school,'' Bielema said.

Well, yeah.

"Well, we're an offense-oriented school,'' Bielema countered.

That, too.

"I understand it -- I get it -- we've got good running backs,'' he continued. "But there's not a lot of people in college football over the last couple of years who have been as balanced as we are.''

That's the reality.

In 2009, the Badgers were one of only six teams in college football to average over 200 yards rushing (203.9) and passing (213.1). Florida, TCU, Stanford, Fresno State and Auburn were the others.

In 2010, the Badgers averaged 245.6 on the ground and 199.4 through the air.

It's hard to argue against that type of balance. Wilson obviously agreed.

"That's the part I think we ultimately ended up selling to him,'' Bielema said.

But there was much more to Bielema's recruiting pitch to Wilson. "You've got a chance to come in here,'' he informed him, "and you're not going to do it on your own.''

That touched all the bases, the right ones, at least; home run.

Not that Bielema would ever use a baseball metaphor.

"I was the last kid picked in baseball every time in gym class,'' he said, laughing.

Let's just say his pitch -- the one to Wilson -- was a strike.

"I believe some other people who were recruiting him,'' Bielema said, "were selling him on, 'Hey, come here. You're the man, you're going to win the Heisman and the national championship ...''

Blah, blah, blah.

Bielema picked it up from there, adding "Whereas my plan was, 'This is what we are. If you want to fit into this, I think you can be tremendously successful.'''

He also told Wilson, "If you come here and become a part of what we're doing, and buy into what we do as coaches, you're going to be rewarded for the rest of your life.''

On the other hand, if Wilson expected special privileges, if he was looking for a program where he would be bigger than the team, Bielema suggested to him, "This isn't the place for you.''

Bielema knew what he was getting, though; especially after meeting Wilson, especially after a North Carolina State coach also confirmed, "Russell is a '9' as a player and a '29' as a person.''

Near the end of the recruiting process, Wilson sent an email to Bielema.

"Coach, I want to come in and work every day,'' it read in part. "I want to take one game at a time. I want to try and do everything I can to help this football team in any way that I can.''

The fact that Wilson would choose Wisconsin over Auburn, the defending national champions, was gratifying to Bielema and his football program.

"It has been a good awakening for me to realize on a national level that we can compete with anybody,'' he said. But he cautioned, "I don't want to replace the image of Wisconsin.''

Wilson was attracted to the UW because of its family image, among other selling points.

"I'm excited to be a part of the Wisconsin family,'' he said Monday.

Bielema limited his initial comments on Wilson to a prepared statement in a press release. That was by design to give Wilson some space and his own forum to explain his decision to become a Badger.

On Tuesday, Bielema was on two local radio shows, one nationally-syndicated show and ESPN's College Football Live. He was spreading the word on how happy the Badgers were to land Wilson.

Bielema also answered questions from the local and the state media corps for 20 minutes in the lobby of the UW football offices on the eighth floor of Camp Randall Stadium.

While he was noting how Wilson is "very on-task with everything he does'' Wilson and his fiancée, Ashley, were in Raleigh packing for the move. Wilson is expected to be in Madison this weekend.

Once he's here, and clears his physical, Wilson will join the UW's summer conditioning workouts. He's also planning on enrolling in some summer school courses.

"Once he gets on campus,'' Bielema said, "our players will be the best coaches.''

That's out of necessity. The NCAA limits off-season contact between players and coaches.

Wilson has already been introduced to the skill-position players and his offensive line.

That took place on his recruiting trip to Madison.

"He had made the comment that he was really looking forward to playing behind an offensive line of our stature,'' Bielema said. "So we let him sit down and visit with the linemen.''

With a smirk, Bielema added, "I think that was a moment when he realized, 'This is a different game here' with the guys that we had walking into that room.''

Given that Jon Budmayr was the UW's starting quarterback coming out of spring practice -- replacing two-year starter Scott Tolzien -- what was his reaction to Wilson's recruitment?

"I loved Jon's reaction,'' said Bielema. "He goes, 'Coach, whatever happens, it's not going to change the way I prepare for this upcoming season.' I really think that's the way he's going to handle it.''

Wilson said Monday that he felt comfortable in Bielema's presence.

How did Bielema handle that end of the process?

"I was just me,'' he said. "The same guy I am if I'm recruiting Peter Konz out of Neenah or Lance Kendricks out of Milwaukee or Aaron Henry out of Immokalee, Florida.

"I tell them all the same thing, 'I'm going to put you in a position to win.'

"One thing I was guarded against with Russell, I didn't anoint him king of Madison. I didn't tell him that he was going to come in here and change the world.''

He just emphasized the Badgers were a great fit for his needs. Wilson agreed.

"I wouldn't have gone down this path,'' Bielema said of the entire recruiting process, "if it wasn't someone I really respected as a person that I thought could handle this situation.''

Bielema recounted how he had left the scholarship papers at home over the weekend, which resulted in an unscheduled delay early Monday morning.

The papers had to be faxed to Wilson and signed by him before it all became official.

"Left them on my kitchen counter and I had to go back and get them,'' Bielema said.

What was Wilson's reaction?

"He said, 'Coach, you've got to be better prepared than that.'

"That's how he is.''