PEELER: No Time For Wilson To Relax
July 28, 2010
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Russell Wilson was alone, a full continent away from his home, dealing with the loss of his inspiration and hero.
Living on his own and out of spotlight of the family, coaches and academic advisors who have overseen almost every waking moment of his first two decades, Wilson could have kicked back, relaxed and soaked in, perhaps for the first time in his life, the freedom of having a little spare time.
But Wilson has higher aspirations than most 22-year-olds. He wants to play baseball in the major leagues and football in the NFL. In his mind, NC State's starter the last two years at quarterback has only taken baby steps towards those goals.
Not once during his six weeks with the Tri-City Dust Devils, the short-season Single A franchise of the Colorado Rockies, did Wilson take a day off from pursuing his dream, as he tried to make himself a better professional baseball player and a better person. Wilson lost his father, Harrison Wilson III, the day after he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of baseball's amateur draft in June. Allowing himself to be distracted by the lure of free time would have been a disservice to his dad's memory and to his life's goal.
"Yes, I've been on my own out here," Wilson said by phone during a seven-hour bus ride from Pasco, Wash., to Boise, Idaho. "I'm making my own decisions. I can go out at night if I want to, or I can decide not to go lift if I don't feel like it. But I'm a motivated person. I want to be the best baseball player I can be while I'm out here. I want to be the best quarterback in the country when I come back to NC State. I want to prove I can play in the NFL and Major League Baseball.
"That's my ultimate goal. Whatever it takes to do both of those things, I'm going to do it."
Over the last six weeks, Wilson spent his mornings in the weight room, as he combined his NC State workout regimen with a similar plan sent to him by the Rockies. Alternate days were spent on long runs or doing multiple mid-range and short sprints. He spent his afternoons at the baseball field, begging his baseball teammates to throw the football with him.He found the perfect partner in Dust Devils assistant coach Anthony Sanders, who was once headed to the University of Arizona to play football and baseball until he was drafted in the seventh round of the 1992 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Sanders eventually spent parts of three seasons in the majors with the Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, and achieved a feat no other major leaguer can ever beat: he batted 1.000 for the 2000 season, going 1-for-1 in his only game with the Mariners.
Wilson chatted with his teammates back in Raleigh when he saw they were on-line, and he kept in touch with his closest friends on the team, like tight end George Bryan and wide receivers Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams. Long bus rides for baseball road games were spent texting his teammates and coaches back in Raleigh. Sometimes, he wandered to the back of the bus, where he worked on improving his broken Spanish with his Latino teammates.
During a four-day road trip to play the Eugene Emeralds, he spent his mornings and afternoons working out at Oregon's plush football facilities. Every moment was spent getting better at something.
"It's definitely been a learning experience for me and definitely something where I've motivated myself and gotten better each and every day," Wilson said. "It's not one particular thing. I'm focused on getting myself better to get to the next level."
For Wilson, it won't be enough to play in the majors or in the NFL. He wants to play a long time.
"I'm not working to just get there for a year or two," he said. "I'm trying to be there for the long haul. I'm trying to be open-minded and let the coaches help me. I'm very coachable. I like to learn. I like to hear what other people think. I'm trying to take it all in."
Wilson was originally recruited to play baseball, but ever since he became the first freshman in ACC history to be named the league's first-team all-conference quarterback, he's dreamed of playing in the NFL. The immediate reaction from scouts and fans is that Wilson, at 5-11, 210 pounds, is too small, perhaps too delicate, to play against NFL defenses.
Pure hogwash, said a former NC State passer who now makes his living playing on Sundays.
"Obviously, we aren't exactly similar players, in terms of size and stature," said San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. "He can do a lot more with his legs than I can. I have of guys out here in our lockerroom that come up to me and say `Golly, that Wilson can really play.'
"I just appreciate the way he plays."
Wilson also has one of the same qualities that turned Rivers from a big kid with a funny throwing motion into one of the NFL's marquee players: a desire to be successful that is unmatched by most.
"He has a command, a presence that I obviously notice," Rivers said. "You can never count him out when he has the ball in his hands. He is so accurate - he never throws interceptions. "I tell you what, the things they can't measure in the combines or watching videotape is the intangibles that make you a good player. To me, those intangibles almost outweigh all those other things they look at, after you reach a certain skill level. I notice that every time I see him play."
Wilson has been trying to do the little things he can to become one of the best college quarterbacks in the nation. In his first two years as the Wolfpack's starter, Wilson has put up big numbers, thanks to his strong arm, his scrambling ability and his overall passing skills. He's moved into the top five in school history in passing yards (4,982), passing efficiency (141.94), completions (374), touchdowns (48), total offense (5,630) and touchdown responsibility (56). Last season, he was ranked fourth nationally with 31 touchdown passes, which is second in school history only to Rivers. He also broke the NCAA record by throwing 379 passes without an interception.
In his final game last year, he completed 20 of his 27 passes for 259 yards and threw four touchdown passes, as the Wolfpack overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to beat arch-rival North Carolina, 28-27. But that was the last time he was a full-time football player. He spent the entire season with the Wolfpack baseball team, missing all 15 spring practice sessions. Sophomore Mike Glennon took all the snaps with the first team.
Following the June baseball draft, he signed with the Colorado Rockies and was assigned to play for the Dust Devils. As of Thursday night, he's played 30 games at second base, hitting .248 with a pair of home runs and 11 runs knocked in. But he will leave baseball behind after Sunday's game to report to preseason football camp. The entire team is scheduled to arrive by Monday and the first practice is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Wilson can take nothing for granted. His starting job is not even assured, according to head coach Tom O'Brien.
"Mike Glennon is going to push Russell for the starting job," O'Brien said at the recent ACC Football Kickoff. "That's what his job is, to try to win the job from Russell Wilson. Getting all those snaps in the spring made him better.
"Russell hasn't played football since the last week of November. What we'll have in the preseason is two guys fighting for the starting position. When we play our first game on Sept. 4, we'll have a heck of a quarterback."
O'Brien knows Wilson will come into camp prepared. Wilson believes he has something to prove, and every time that has happened in his career, spectacular things have followed.
"Russell prepares for everything," O'Brien said. "He's mentally strong about a lot of things. He's already started down the path to becoming a major league ball player. But the reason he's coming back to play football this year is to answer the question about his abilities to play in the NFL.
"Russell's the kind of person when you tell him he can't do something, he is going to go out and prove you wrong. That should make for a fun season." Wilson believes his offensive teammates have worked just as hard this spring and summer working as hard as hard as he has to get ready for the coming season.
And, if that is true, the Wolfpack should have one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation.
"It will be only as good as the effort we put into it," Wilson said. "We have to be out there a little extra in practice. We have to put in more time in the film room. We have to sit back and talk with each other, teach each other what we've learned and pass things down to the younger kids. "If we each go into the season working to be the best individual we can be, we'll end up being the best team we can be and we will compete in every game."
For Wilson, this is no time to relax.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.