Russell Wilson returns ‘home’ to have his NC State jersey honored

jgiglio@newsobserver.comApril 12, 2014 

— Make room for another chapter in the “Legend of Russell Wilson.”

Before Wilson ever played a game at N.C. State, he visited Carter-Finley Stadium with his father and older brother. He saw the names of the Wolfpack players who had their jerseys retired and made a prediction.

“I remember telling them my goal was to be the next quarterback up on that wall,” Wilson said Saturday before N.C. State’s Kay Yow Spring Game.

Wilson’s No. 16 is the ninth number up there now, on the west side of the stadium, right next to Bill Yoest’s No. 63 and a bookend to Philip Rivers’ No. 17.

Not bad for a two-star recruit out of high school in Richmond, Va., who began his college career fourth on the depth chart. This achievement is just the latest for Wilson, who at 25 has already made a career of proving people wrong.

At 5-foot-10, he was supposed to be too short for the NFL, dropping to the third round of the 2012 draft. That didn’t stop him from winning the starting job and leading the Seattle Seahawks into the playoffs as a rookie.

In February, he became the first ACC quarterback to win the Super Bowl. In two seasons with the Seahawks, he has won more games (24) than any other NFL quarterback in their first two seasons since 1967.

“I think about how far I’ve come and how many people told me ‘no,’ ” Wilson said. “I just believed in the talent that God gave me.”

Wilson’s number is the first to be honored at N.C. State since Rivers’ in 2003 and the first that will be “recirculated” by N.C. State as part of its new “legends” program.

Wilson’s No. 16 can still be worn but it will include a patch with his name on it. N.C. State will do the same with the jersey of Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams.

Saturday was Wilson’s day, a return to where a burgeoning legend started.

“It’s good to be back home,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s unusual career arc is familiar by now. After starting for three seasons, from 2008 to 2010 at N.C. State, he finished his college career with Wisconsin in 2011. Just a week ago he was at the Final Four sitting behind the Badgers’ bench.

Wilson’s exit has become something of a turf war on Twitter, and briefly before the Super Bowl on billboards in north Raleigh. But Wilson embraces all parts of his college journey.

“Leaving N.C. State was tough for me,” Wilson said. “I wanted to play all four years here and finish my career and win an ACC championship.

“The plans kind of changed a little bit so I had to move on. At the same time, this school will never leave me.”

Wilson’s celebrity status has taken off like a rocket since the Seahawks’ 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. He has hit the talk-show circuit, even adding some basketball analysis at the Final Four for CBS, and filmed a cameo part in the upcoming “Entourage” movie.

He also went to spring training with the Texas Rangers and is getting ready for a second year of his youth football camps, which will bring him back to Raleigh on June 21.

“It has been a great whirlwind,” Wilson said.

The current Wolfpack players were appreciative of Wilson’s return on Saturday.

“For him to take time to come back, it really means a lot,” said fifth-year senior receiver Bryan Underwood, Wilson’s teammate in 2010. “It shows his love for us still.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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