Russell Wilson stands tall after rookie NFL success

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2013 

  • Russell Wilson Passing Academy

    Where: N.C. State practice fields, Raleigh

    When: Tuesday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.

    to 2 p.m.

    Fee: $225 (scholarships are available from American Family Insurance)

    For more information: or email

Russell Wilson was supposed to be too short to play quarterback in the NFL.

That was before he won the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks, led them to the playoffs, tied the NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie and was the highest-rated passer (not just rookie but any quarterback) in the second half of the NFL season.

Not bad for an opening act and not bad for a “5-11 quarterback,” said Wilson, referring to his height, which was the focus of doubters before the 2012 NFL draft and season.

“Don’t let somebody tell you no,” Wilson said in an interview Friday.

The former N.C. State quarterback heard “no” and “can’t” so many times he turned it into personal motivation. A third-round pick, 75th overall in 2012, he beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job in training camp and then led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a win in the playoffs.

Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record with 26 touchdown passes, and also ran for four touchdowns. His 120.3 passer rating over the final eight games of the regular season was the best in the NFL.

He was even better in the playoffs, leading the Seahawks to a Wild Card win at Washington against fellow rookie QB Robert Griffin III. He then threw for 385 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in a 30-28 loss to Atlanta in the divisional round.

All of the doubts and closed doors are also why he has started a summer football camp, which he will bring to Raleigh on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The “Russell Wilson Passing Academy” is Wilson’s way of giving young players, ages 9 through 17, an opportunity to learn about the game.

“The whole idea is to get as many kids involved as I can,” Wilson said. “I want to inspire them to be great, whether that’s as a quarterback, teacher or doctor. I want to give them something to look forward to.”

The camp is also a return to Raleigh for Wilson. He led the Wolfpack to a 9-4 record, and No. 25 ranking in 2010, but was told by former coach Tom O’Brien that Mike Glennon, who was a third-round pick in the draft in April, would be the quarterback in 2011.

Wilson, who also played baseball at N.C. State, decided to finish his career at Wisconsin, where he led the Badgers to the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl in his only season in Madison.

Like his path to the pros, Wilson is bringing his camp from Richmond to Raleigh to Madison before two stops in the state of Washington in July.

Wilson’s exit from N.C. State was not his choice but he has made peace with how everything worked out.

“It’s amazing how God works and puts you in the right place at the right time,” Wilson said. “I still love N.C. State and root for them and I’m proud that I graduated from N.C. State.”

Wilson’s greatness at N.C. State flew mostly under the national radar, despite passing for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns in three All-ACC seasons.

His reputation was enhanced by his lone season at Wisconsin, and an NCAA-record 191.8 pass efficiency rating, but it wasn’t until he hit the NFL that his star took off outside of Raleigh and Chapel Hill (where he was 3-0 against UNC).

Wilson had an eventful rookie season. He played an integral role in one of the most controversial games in NFL history, a 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 24.

Wilson’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate as time expired appeared to be intercepted by Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings in the end zone. One replacement referee signaled for a touchdown, the other standing next to him did not.

That game, which almost broke Twitter, triggered the end of the NFL’s labor dispute with its referees. It was also only the third start of Wilson’s career.

After five games, Wilson’s numbers were what you would expect for a rookie starter. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions and averaged 163 passing yards per game.

Then the New England Patriots traveled to Seattle on Oct. 14. The Patriots, and star quarterback Tom Brady, led 23-10 in the fourth quarter before Wilson engineered a comeback with two touchdown passes for a 24-23 win.

“That was a crazy, crazy game,” Wilson said. “To come back and win like we did, against a quarterback like Tom Brady – who I have so much respect for – it really started clicking after that.

“That game gave me some credibility and it showed me that coach (Pete Carroll) truly believed in me.”

Over the final 11 regular-season games, Wilson completed 64.5 percent of his passes (173 of 268) for 209.3 yards per game with 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Wilson kept the Seahawks rolling in the playoffs, winning at Washington and nearly winning at Atlanta in another wild game. Seattle trailed by 20 in the second half before Wilson rallied the Seahawks to a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left. Atlanta ended up winning on a 49-yard field goal in the final seconds.

After the spectacular finish to 2012, there are fewer doubts about Wilson’s ability heading into his second season. He’s considered the future of the league, along with fellow second-year QBs Griffin and Andrew Luck.

Not that Wilson has run out of fuel for motivation.

“I’m never satisfied, there’s so much more I want to accomplish,” Wilson said. “I’m still hungry and there’s a fire in me every time I hear, ‘You’re 5-11 and you can’t do this.’

“Well, we’ll see.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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