Aug. 3, 2011
In the second installment of a three-part series on the quarterbacks vying for UW's staring job during fall camp, Mike Lucas sits down for an exclusive interview with senior QB Russell Wilson.
• Tuesday, Aug. 2: Chryst | Wednesday, Aug. 3: Wilson | Thursday, Aug. 4: Budmayr
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- As he was being briefed on media responsibilities -- starting with Sunday’s Media Day and upcoming interviews with the New York Times and Sporting News -- he took everything in stride.
Perspective might be one of Russell Wilson’s most endearing qualities.
That bodes well for Wilson and Wisconsin; one of four schools that will be the subject of an ESPN feature (“Depth Chart”) on quarterbacks that will be filmed during training camp.
There will be a lot of scrutiny and “eyes” on Wilson this season.
“That’s OK, I don’t mind the eyes,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t worry about all of that.”
Instead, Wilson is “enjoying the moment” while making sure that he does everything possible to prepare for the 2011 season through his commitment to practicing and “playing hard every day.”
In striving to be that person -- “In being who I need to be and the best quarterback that I can be every single day I step on the field,” he said -- there has been no shortage of perspective.
“I’ve been through camp, I’ve been through the grind,” said Wilson, a three-year starter at North Carolina State. “I’ve been in the spotlight in terms of primetime games.”
Since picking Wisconsin over Auburn, he has been eyeing just one thing.
“I can’t wait to be out there with the guys,” he said of Friday’s first practice at Camp Randall Stadium. “It’s my new family and I’m excited about the family. I feel like I’ve been completely welcomed.
“It’s going to be big-time football and I’m really excited about that. Hopefully we’ll do great things this season but I just have to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one snap at a time.”
That attitude has won over his UW teammates, who have been raving about his work habits and humility. Russell Wilson, the person, may be less of an unknown than Russell Wilson, the player.
From this perspective, what do we really know about Wilson, the accomplished college quarterback who has 36 career starts; 8,545 passing yards; 1,083 rushing yards; and 93 touchdowns?
We know that Wilson has always been a fan of a former Big Ten quarterback -- Purdue’s Drew Brees, who helped guide the New Orleans Saints to a win in Super Bowl XLIV.
“I watch Drew Brees a lot,” he said. “He’s a guy who’s my height and has similar arm strength and accuracy. The way he moves his feet in the pocket is really spectacular.”
Wilson is listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds. How does he compensate for his lack of height? “I do what every quarterback does,” he said. “I keep my feet moving and I keep my eyes downfield.”
Does that put a greater pressure on him to find passing lanes?
“Even if you’re 6-4, you have those offensive linemen who are 6-6, so you never really see over them,” he said. “There are only a few exceptions when you do see over them.
“Knowing where your guys (linemen and receivers) are, knowing where the defense is and just knowing football and gaining experience is the most important part.”
Besides liking Brees, he also has closely followed the career of San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who holds most of the passing records at NC State. Wilson and Rivers have visited a couple of times.
“Brees is an athletic guy; so is Rivers,” he said. “But he’s taller (6-5), not quite as fast. The way they move their feet is very similar. And they’re competitive; that’s the key thing they both have.
“I’ve watched several other quarterbacks, including Brett Favre. I watched how he competed hard every day at the same time that he was having fun on the field, which is what it’s all about.”
One ACC sportswriter characterized Wilson as a “scrambler,” which he disputed.
“I can run, but I love to throw the football,” he said, setting the record straight. “I’m always looking to throw but if something breaks down and I need to get a first down, I’ll take off and run.
“I completely have the mindset of a quarterback. I think I can throw any throw on the field against anybody, at any time. When it comes to running, it’s just another threat that I have.”
What about running the UW offense versus the NC State offense?
What does he anticipate will be the differences once he gets into the huddle?
“It’s not that much different from what I ran at NC State,” he said. “It has to do with your strengths. And here we have a lot of different strengths and it’s a positive thing, a really good thing.”
* * *
Following a photo op Tuesday in the UW football offices, Wilson was prodded into talking about the pitching that he faced at the minor league level as a member of the Colorado Rockies organization.
For perspective, he said, most of the young arms hit 90-plus on the gun. When it was noted Detroit’s Justin Verlander was hitting 100-plus in the late innings Sunday, he threw in a personal note.
Verlander is from Wilson’s hometown -- Richmond, Va. -- and played ball in the same circles with Wilson’s older brother, Harry, before going to Old Dominion. Harry went to the University of Richmond.
During his recruiting trip to Madison, Russell was accompanied by his brother, who drove up from his home in Chicago, where he’s in pharmaceutical sales.
“That didn’t have a huge factor in me coming here,” he said of Madison’s proximity to the Windy City. “I knew it was important to him. But, at the same time, I had to do what was best for me.
“And this was best for me at the time.”
That brings some perspective to Wilson’s decision-making process.
“I knew it was a good situation and I’m blessed to be here,” he said.
Wilson was influenced by a number of people on his campus visit.
There was head coach Bret Bielema. “He did a great job of being honest with me,” Wilson said. “He talked to me about the opportunity that I would have here with the Badger family.”
There was offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who sold Wilson on the UW game plan. “That was definitely something important, too,” Wilson said. “My personal goal is to play in the NFL.”
There was the Badger offensive line. “We talked and shared thoughts on what their mindset was and what mine was,” he said. “Being a quarterback it’s definitely important to have that relationship.”
There was Nick Toon and Montee Ball and James White. “We kind of clicked right away,” Wilson said. “There was a whole bunch of guys and we all got along really well.”
In retrospect, it wasn’t one person or one thing that swayed Wilson.
“I knew the atmosphere here was great,” he said. “I knew it was big-time football and it was going to be exciting. I prayed about it and trusted the Lord that He would lead me in the right direction.”
Upon returning to campus after making his decision, he addressed his new teammates.
“I just told everybody where my mind was,” he said, “in terms of competing every day and trying to be the best quarterback and the best teammate that I can be.
“I want to lead by example. But I also want to lead by my experience.”
Did he have to think about what he was going to say before saying it?
“Not if what you have to say is the truth,” he said. “I was just speaking from the heart.”
In this context, Wilson said that he was “just being himself” in front of the team.
“I’m a guy who’s going to work hard every single day,” he said, “and a guy who’s going to be fun, talkative and serious -- serious about what I need to do and what we need to do as a team.”
Wilson’s actions spoke volumes during summer conditioning. In turn, he was impressed with the overall work ethic; particularly with the tempo and intensity of Ben Herbert’s training regimen.
“The strength and conditioning program here is really good,” he said. “You notice that right away from the kickers to the offensive linemen to the running backs to the receivers to the defense.”
Wilson got a chance to chat with former UW quarterback Scott Tolzien before he left for the San Diego Chargers training camp. “We kind of hung out more than anything,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s father, the late Harrison Wilson, also had a free agent tryout with the Chargers. His dad passed away one year ago to the day that Russell was making his UW visit.
“It was definitely emotional for me,” Russell said. “But I’ve been blessed to have him in my life and I know he’s still with me. I know he’s going to be wearing a Wisconsin jersey up in heaven.”
Wilson’s fiancée, Ashton, has joined Russell in Madison. Monday was the one-year anniversary of their engagement. Both have been enjoying Lake Mendota and the Union Terrace.
But nothing will provide greater enjoyment to Russell Wilson than the opening of camp.
“My ultimate goal is to win -- win every game -- one game at a time,” he said, offering more perspective. “That’s the main thing. If I compete as hard as I can, the rest will take care of itself.”