Russell Wilson readied the red blocking pad and challenged Samuel Tristan.
“Come on, hit me again,” the Seattle Seahawks quarterback said as he flashed his trademark grin.
Tristan is an 8-year-old from South Webster, Ohio, not an NFL linebacker, but you couldn’t tell the difference in the way Wilson interacted with him Tuesday at Wilson’s football camp in Raleigh.
There are easier ways to run a football camp, but with Wilson, a former N.C. State star, there’s no such thing as the easy way.
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More than 400 boys and girls, ranging from 8 to 17, turned out for the first stop of the Russell Wilson Passing Academy. About half of the campers, director Scott Pickett said, were there on scholarships, provided by the different organizations and sponsors that work with the camp.
There were another 100 coaches and volunteers working the camp, including current N.C. State football players Jacoby Brissett and Shadrach Thornton. There were as many people on the sidelines hoping for a moment with Wilson, the only former ACC quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Wilson was an All-ACC quarterback for N.C. State for three seasons before graduating and finishing his college career at Wisconsin in 2011.
He’ll bring his camp to Madison, Wis., and two other stops before two dates in Seattle. Pickett said Wilson will work with about 4,000 campers this summer.
During the five-hour camp session Tuesday, Wilson was a magnet for parents with camera phones and high fives from little kids. There was music playing in the background, some songs by Earth, Wind and Fire and others by Michael Jackson, to keep the campers and crowd moving.
Eric Moore held up his smart phone to show off a picture he took of his nephew, Braxton Jones, 16, working on a drill with Wilson.
“That right there makes the whole trip worth it,” said Moore, 37, who drove with his family from Forest City for the camp.
‘Wants to inspire kids’
In black shorts, black compression leggings and a black shirt, Wilson worked up a sweat in the unyielding summer sun. He moved from drill to drill across the three different practice fields behind Carter-Finley Stadium.
Wilson, 26, who is relentless in his charity work around the Seattle area, said he has been given an opportunity by God to help others.
“It’s an honor just be able to challenge and motivate these kids and give them an opportunity,” Wilson said. “That’s what life is about.”
Wilson could just go through the motions, or skip out altogether on one of the seven camps in six different cities on the summer schedule, but that’s not his style.
“He doesn’t have to be out here, but he wants to be,” said Pickett, who grew up with Wilson in Richmond, Va. “He wants to inspire kids and help them reach their goals, whether that’s to become a football player or a lawyer.”
Advice and guidance
Wilson got an unexpected visit Tuesday from former N.C. State coach Chuck Amato. Wilson introduced Amato, who recruited him to N.C. State in 2006, to a group of the older campers. Wilson mostly speaks in a string of cliches with the media, but not during a moment Tuesday with the campers while telling them a story about Amato.
Wilson was overlooked during the recruiting process because of his height (5-foot10), despite leading Collegiate School to three Virginia high school state titles. Wilson told the campers he attended a summer camp on the same fields at N.C. State.
“There were other five-star recruits here,” Wilson said. “I don’t know where they are now, they’re at home, but (Amato) believed in me.”
While Wilson and Amato covered N.C. State’s past, Brissett picked up some advice and guidance for the Wolfpack’s future.
The senior quarterback said there were little things to be learned from Wilson about footwork and how to play the position, but the biggest takeaway was how Wilson carried himself.
“Just the way he leads on and off the field is remarkable,” Brissett said.
Super Bowl heartbreak
This has been an unusual offseason, even by Wilson’s standards. The Carolina Panthers gave Cam Newton a $103 million contract extension and Miami gave Ryan Tannehill a $95 million one, but Wilson still waits for a deal from Seattle.
There’s also the matter of the infamous ending to Super Bowl XLIX. Seattle was on the doorstep of a Super Bowl repeat but New England’s Malcolm Butler intercepted Wilson inside the 1-yard line to preserve a 28-24 Patriots’ win.
The second-and-goal play call was instantly questioned because Seattle coach Pete Carroll went with a pass to little-used receiver Ricardo Lockette, instead of giving the ball to workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch, who ran for 102 yards and a touchdown during the game.
Wilson called the ending a “heartbreaker” but didn’t get into any of the second-guessing.
“There’s so many different options in that situation, you just hope for the best one,” Wilson said.
Wilson said there’s really only one way to get over a loss like that.
“Make it there again and win it again,” Wilson said.
“Hopefully, we’ll be on the 1-yard line again and hopefully we’ll find a way.”
If Wilson was looking for a few more true believers, he found them Tuesday.