Ever since starting for a high-school baseball team as an eighth grader, Wilson's work ethic has given him a reputation as an overachiever.
RENTON — Russell Wilson knows how to wear the position.
He’s shown that since he arrived in Seattle as a third-round pick in April and progressed to becoming an NFL starter without ever so much as breaking a sweat in front of the cameras, questions and scrutiny that have constituted his NFL orientation.
Confidence. Charisma. Poise. Wilson embodies all of those high-minded concepts that get tossed around to describe the essence of a successful quarterback. In terms of intangibles, Wilson holds a full house, and someone who’s known Wilson since grade school just chuckles a little bit when asked about this quarterback who has turned Seattle on its ear.
“He’s kind of done that everywhere he’s gone,” said Charlie McFall, Wilson’s football coach at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va.
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Seattle is just the latest place to be left slack-jawed after the arrival of this player who’s as well-armed as he is well-mannered. It happened when he was an eighth grader starting at shortstop on his high school’s varsity baseball team. It happened at North Carolina State where he started as a redshirt freshman. It happened at Wisconsin where he was voted team captain last year a little more than a month after arriving on campus as a transfer and led the team to a Rose Bowl.
Bret Bielema, Wilson’s coach at Wisconsin, was sent a video clip last month that showed Wilson’s interaction with his Seahawks teammates in the locker room. He was left with the distinct impression he had seen that before.
“I’m like, ‘He’s got that locker room wrapped around his finger right now,’ ” Bielema said, according to The Associated Press.
It’s possible to see Wilson’s ascension as inevitable when, in truth, it was anything but easy.
The Collegiate School he attended is known for academics, not athletics, and he wasn’t considered tall enough for the University of Virginia to covet him as a quarterback recruit. So he went off to North Carolina State, where he balanced two sports for four years. Two years ago, when a future in professional sports was just beginning, his father — Harrison — died after years of fighting diabetes. He passed away the day after Russell was drafted in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies.
Wilson’s grandfather was the president of Norfolk State. His father attended Dartmouth and was so driven he went on to attend law school and so athletic that after earning his law degree, he went through a training camp with the San Diego Chargers
Russell’s older brother played two sports at University of Richmond, and their younger sister is entering high school, where she’s a heck of a basketball prospect. A point guard, she’s considered one of the best players in the country in her grade.
“Thing I’m worried about, she may be taller than me,” Russell said.
She’s 5 feet 9, just turned 15 and is the latest member of the Wilson family to develop an athletic reputation. That was certainly the case for Russell. Seattle fullback Michael Robinson — like Wilson — is from Richmond, and he heard a scouting report years before Wilson was being graded by draft analysts.
“Early in my career in the league, I remember hearing about Russell,” said Robinson, who is entering his seventh year in the NFL. “I remember my people back at home saying, ‘Man, we got a quarterback around here who’s really, really serious.’ “
Serious. That’s a good way to describe Wilson. He’s not the type of guy to waste either opportunities or time. Seahawks teammate J.R. Sweezy saw that firsthand. They were part of the same recruiting class at North Carolina State, enrolling in 2007, and Sweezy watched as Wilson was able to do more than just keep pace in football even as his attention was divided with baseball.
“He would miss the spring practices — like all of a spring,” Sweezy said. “Then he would come in and know the offense better and do everything better than the quarterbacks who had been there all spring.
“It was amazing he could fit all that in.”
Wilson redshirted his first year on campus and the next year began fourth, maybe even fifth, on the depth chart at quarterback. But he became the starter by the time the season began.
“Me ending up being the starter my freshman year was an exciting moment for me,” Wilson said. “At the same time, I’ve been working for that my whole life, similar to here.
“Going to Wisconsin, that kind of happened again, that type of deal, and then coming here.”
It’s the reason his high-school football coach chuckles when asked about Wilson’s jaw-dropping first impression. This is how it has always been with Wilson.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org