By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
The rookie quarterback who will start Friday’s preseason game for the Seattle Seahawks needed only a couple of weeks to push himself into the thick of a heated quarterback competition and win over a hard-to-please fan base.
To those who know him best, it’s just the same old Russell Wilson.
If it feels like Wilson is quietly wrapping the city of Seattle around his finger, well, that’s because Russell Wilson does just that everywhere he goes.
“It didn’t take long,” University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said Tuesday morning when asked about Wilson’s ability to win over the Badger faithful. “He won over the players right away. He was here a month when they voted him captain. He was outstanding the minute he stepped on the field.”
From Madison, Wisc., to Raleigh, N.C., to Richmond, Va., with a stop in Pasco along the way, Wilson has been winning over devoted fans who are now rooting for him to win the Seahawks’ starting job.
Back in Richmond, where Wilson was born and raised, they’re rooting for him like a son. Wilson’s journey to the NFL has been closely monitored by those who knew him first.
“Everyone here in Richmond has been Redskin fans,” said Charlie McFall, athletic director at the Collegiate School in Richmond, “but right now everybody is Seattle fans.”
McFall, who coached football at Collegiate School for 21 years and retired after Wilson’s final game in 2006, has known him since the quarterback was in kindergarten. McFall first noticed his football skills in the fifth grade, when older brother Harrison IV was playing varsity football and Russell was a ball boy. A referee summoned Russell to throw a ball to him, and the fifth-grader turned and whizzed it.
“The referee went: ‘Oh, my golly. Oh, my golly,’” McFall said via telephone Tuesday morning. “And I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to hang around for this guy.’”
Wilson became a star on the gridiron and still has quite a following in his hometown, where they believe he’ll win the Seahawks’ starting job sooner rather than later.
“Just give him a chance,” McFall said, “and he’ll show you.”
In Raleigh, Wilson is still popular despite a somewhat controversial exit with one year of eligibility remaining at North Carolina State.
The star quarterback played professional baseball for the Colorado Rockies after his sophomore season, and the following spring, when Wilson could not give Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien assurances that he would be available for the spring and fall that preceded his senior year there, the team decided to move forward with quarterback Mike Glennon as the starter.
Wilson, who had graduated, took advantage of a fairly new NCAA rule that allows athletes who have earned their degrees to transfer to another school without having to sit out a year. He ended up at Wisconsin, where he went on to become a national star. And yet those back in Raleigh still love him.
“People here are pulling for him,” North Carolina State associate athletic director and sports information director Annabelle Myers said. “You go out to (football) practice every day, and people are saying: ‘Did you see what Russ did last night?’
“We think of him as one of our own. He’s beloved here.”
The Fan radio station in Raleigh uses the hashtag #AllRussellWilsonEverything on its Twitter page and still follows the former Wolfpack star.
“He’s arguably as big a star here as Philip Rivers,” said afternoon host Adam Gold, referring to the San Diego Chargers quarterback who also played at N.C. State.
Gold added that Wilson’s 3-0 record against North Carolina is a big reason for his popularity there, with a “Hail-Mary” touchdown pass in the 2010 meeting providing one of the quarterback’s greatest highlights at North Carolina State.
“He ran around for 15 seconds and threw one in the air, and a guy caught it for a touchdown,” Gold said of the memorable touchdown pass to Owen Spencer. “That’s Russell. He’s a wonderful player, and he’s simply one of the classiest athletes you’ll ever find.”
Wilson also won over some fans in Pasco, where he played baseball for the Tri City Dust Devils of the Northwest League in the summer of 2010. He hit .230 in 32 games there, but left quite an impression. (In his final series of that season, he went 2-for-14 in three games against the Everett AquaSox in late July.)
“Everyone in this organization is rooting for him,” said Anthony Sanders, the Dust Devils’ hitting coach and a frequent throwing partner of Wilson’s. “We had many conversations here — about football, and about life.”
Wilson also played minor-league baseball in the summer of 2011, hitting .228 for Ashville (N.C.) before reporting to Madison to play football at Wisconsin. In his only season leading the Badgers, Wilson set the NCAA record for passing efficiency (191.8) and broke single-season school records in passing yards (3,175), passing touchdowns (33), completions (225) and completion percentage (72.8).
“He’s the best I’ve ever been around,” said Alvarez, the Badgers’ AD and former head football coach. “He’s got everything.”
Everything, including quite a fan base in several parts of the country.
“People out here are paying attention,” Alvarez said via telephone while driving from Madison to a golf outing. “We’re rooting for him. He was only here a year, but he won a lot of people over.”
He’s only been in Seattle for a few months. But Wilson seems to be doing the same in these parts as well.