N.C. State's Wilson refocuses on football

The Wolfpack quarterback gets engaged two days before workouts start and shifts gears from baseball to football.

Staff WriterAugust 3, 2010 


After returning from a summer of playing minor league baseball in Pasco, Wash., N.C. State's quarterback Russell Wilson talks about what he's trying to accomplish this season as N.C. State's quarterback during an afternoon press conference at the Murphy Football Center in Raleigh,N.C. Monday Aug. 2, 2010.

CHUCK LIDDY — CHUCK LIDDY - cliddy@newsobserver.com

— Two days before the start of football practice at N.C. State, Russell Wilson got down on one knee and popped the question.

He asked his longtime girlfriend, Ashton Meem, to marry him.

"She said yes," Wilson told reporters Monday.

Wilson's busy, dual-sport career will continue this afternoon when N.C. State begins preseason football practice. He has just returned from spending the summer in the Pacific Northwest, playing short-season Class A minor-league baseball for the Tri-City (Wash.) Dust Devils in the Colorado Rockies' organization.

In football, he hopes to help the Wolfpack improve on its 5-7 record from last season, when he threw an ACC-best 31 touchdown passes. His classroom responsibilities will ease some because he has graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications and now will take a smaller load of graduate school courses.

So he has added to his to-do list with marriage plans, although he and Meem haven't yet set a date. And he is trying to keep his two-sport dream alive as long as possible.

"I wanted to come back and play football and have a chance to play in the NFL and explore that," Wilson said. "And hopefully, I'll get there and play in the NFL. And hopefully, I'll play in the major leagues. You never know. Hopefully, I'll play both."

The Rockies selected Wilson in the fourth round of the major league draft in June. He signed with the understanding that he could still play football and was sent to Pasco, Wash., for the summer.

On long bus rides between cities such as Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Wash., Wilson studied his N.C. State playbook and texted Wolfpack teammates and even coach Tom O'Brien.

"I believe he's coming back this year to try to solve the issue of, can he be an NFL player?" O'Brien said last month. "He's already got his opportunity to be a major league baseball player. I think that keeps him focused and keeps him driven."

Wilson played mostly second base for the Dust Devils, posting a .230 batting average with a .336 on-base percentage in 32 games. He was the team's primary leadoff hitter and tied for the Northwest League lead in triples with four.

His biggest thrill came on July 11, when he drove his first professional home run over the left-center field wall in spacious Gesa Stadium.

"Just getting out there, putting the uniform on for the first time, being able to play every day, that was really a great experience for me," Wilson said.

Wilson made it obvious that he savored his baseball experience but also remains committed to football. He said he hasn't ruled out a return to N.C. State to play football in 2011 in what would be a fifth-year senior season.

He declined to reveal what was discussed in negotiations with the Rockies or the amount of his signing bonus, which Baseball America reported was $200,000. But he said he wants to keep all his options open.

As a senior at Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., he turned down an opportunity to be a high draft pick because he wanted to play football and baseball at N.C. State. He said that was one of the best decisions of his life.

"I'm definitely excited I did it," Wilson said. "It definitely has helped my life and my situation [now], coming back here. I don't have as many classes to take. I can focus on football a little bit extra more, in terms of time constraints and that kind of thing. And it's going to help me."

If Wilson is going to continue his two-sport career as a pro, he faces a tall task - literally - on the football field. Despite being a first-team All-ACC quarterback as a redshirt freshman, setting the NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception and throwing for 3,027 yards last season, Wilson is not a conventional NFL-style quarterback.

At 5 feet 11 and 208 pounds, he doesn't have the height to scan the field that many NFL scouts crave from their quarterbacks. But Wilson cites the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees, who is 6-0 and 209 pounds, as evidence that a quarterback doesn't have to be 6-3 or taller to win in the NFL.

"Drew Brees wasn't tall enough, and he won a Super Bowl," Wilson said. "I'm not comparing myself to Drew Brees, but in terms of height we're similar. In terms of height, I can't worry about that. I just want to do whatever it takes to win."

Wilson said officials in the Rockies organization have told him that he has the potential to be a major league player because of his physical ability and mature approach to the game.

Now he will try to demonstrate the same skills in football. He wants to distribute the ball on an N.C. State offense with experienced pass catchers such as wideouts Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer, and tight end George Bryan.

He wants to demonstrate leadership, and above all he wants to win after being at State for three straight losing seasons, including a freshman season when he redshirted.

"I'm trying to be the best at whatever I do," Wilson said. "That's my mindset. That's my mindset every day. I'm trying to be the best at whatever I'm doing. And that way I have a better chance of winning no matter what it is."

He hopes that by winning he can extend that two-sport dream to another level as a pro as he moves forward with big plans in his personal life - and a new fiancee.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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