By Kathleen Nelson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
Height is not an issue for quarterback Russell Wilson or the Seattle Seahawks. The rest of the league might be another story.
Listed at 5 feet 11, perhaps generously, Wilson doesn’t fit the prototype of an NFL quarterback. But his other gifts compensate, so much so that the Seahawks drafted him this year in the third round, then made him their starter.
“I believe that God made me this way for a reason, and I think it’s for a pretty awesome reason,” Wilson said. “Prove to people that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, how small you are, or whatever.”
Wilson will be seeking his third consecutive victory as a starter Sunday, when the Seahawks visit the Edward Jones Dome to face the Rams.
“I’ve been watching Russell Wilson play since he was in high school,” said Rams defensive end Chris Long, who hails from the same part of Virginia as Wilson. “He’s an excellent athlete. Believe it or not, he was just as good at baseball, too. He was fun to watch in college. He does a great job playing within their system, but when things break down, he can use his athleticism.”
After starting at quarterback for two years at North Carolina State, Wilson was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft by the Colorado Rockies. He spent that summer with the Tri-City Dust Devils but was hitting .230 when he returned to N.C. State for his junior season.
The see-sawing didn’t sit well with Wolfpack coaches, so when Wilson decided to spend another season in pro baseball, N.C. State granted him his release. He spent the summer of 2011 with the Asheville Tourists, made famous in the movie “Bull Durham” as the final stop in the career of catcher Crash Davis. Asheville also was Wilson’s final stop in baseball. He played in 61 games and hit .228.
His position? Shortstop. Seriously. But that had nothing to do with his decision to choose football.
“I experimented with baseball and everything and I just knew that I had this unbelievable passion for the game of football,” Wilson said. “There’s nothing like preparing for a game, trying to be a leader for your football team, the attention to detail that goes into it and the competitive nature that you have to bring.”
He used up his final year of eligibility playing football at Wisconsin, where he set an NCAA record for passing efficiency and broke school records for single-season passing yards (3,175), touchdown passes (33), completions (225), and yards of total offense (3,513).
His college performance and pre-draft workouts convinced Seattle that he was worth the 75th pick in the draft, one month after they signed Green Bay backup Matt Flynn to a three-year deal worth $19.5 million. Flynn was the presumptive starter, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is a fervent believer in competition. Thus, the two were thrown into the mix with last year’s starter, Tarvaris Jackson.
“It’s been a very elaborate competition throughout,” Carroll said. “It’s been kind of cool because it’s a central theme in the program about competition and to put it right at the quarterback spot is really … it’s been significant around here and I kind of like watching what’s going on with it.”
By late August, Carroll had seen enough to trade Jackson to Buffalo. Less than a week later, he named Wilson the starter.
“When he came here and started to mix in our locker room with our guys, you could see that he had a real knack. He’s a true leader,” Carroll said. “And then when we got to the games, Russell just took off. He had such tremendous production in those games. We had a feel for him that maybe he’d be able to win some games for us, we’ll build around him and we’ll watch him grow.”
In three regular-season games, Wilson has completed 43 of 75 passes for 434 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception. The threat from those big, bad linemen has yet to materialize.
“It’s nothing really to overcome. If I was 6-1, they’d still be taller than me,” Wilson said. “I try to have a high, quick release, throw the ball on time and all that, which helps, definitely for sure. But also that experience, that work ethic, and that knowledge of the game, I think, really helps.”
His most recent official TD pass, at the end of the Monday night game, remains a bone of contention and was perhaps the final straw that broke the impasse between the NFL and referees’ association.
“I definitely thought that it was a simultaneous catch,” Wilson said of the ruling that receiver Golden Tate had wrested enough of the ball from Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings to have replacement officials rule the play a game-winning touchdown. But with the regular officials returning for this week’s games, the matter is in the NFL rear-view mirror, as it must be for the Seahawks in preparing for the Rams.
“It’s one of those things where we don’t really have time to waste, obviously, especially since the game was on Monday,” Wilson said. “And now it’s a quick turnaround a day later than it would normally be, so we really have to get focused.”
And that’s the long and the short of it.