MADISON, Wis. — Even the pundits who made a stink about Russell Wilson’s height would be hard pressed to avoid acknowledging the sweet smell of success emanating from Seattle.
Wilson, the former University of Wisconsin standout, officially was announced as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback by head coach Pete Carroll on Sunday night. The decision means he’ll become the shortest starting signal caller in the NFL this season at just 5-foot-11.
Although Wilson’s diminutive stature once raised concerns about his ability to compete in the pros, his college coach is hardly surprised at the triumph.
“By NCAA rules, I cannot bet,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said on Monday. “But I bet you I’ve told hundreds of people since draft day to where we are, ‘He’s going to be the starter in Seattle.’ (I) got a text from several ESPN people that I’ve been conversing with over the course of the last six months. They were like, ‘You were right.'”
Wilson played just one season at Wisconsin after transferring from North Carolina State, but he broke several single-season school passing records in guiding the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. He threw for 3,175 yards with 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions and set the NCAA record for passing efficiency (191.8).
Despite those numbers, Wilson was seen as a test case in the NFL. Many wondered if his so-called height disadvantage would result in too many batted balls at the line of scrimmage. Instead, Wilson won Seattle’s starting job over free agent pickup Matt Flynn by maintaining the same consistency he displayed in college.
During the NFL preseason, Wilson completed 35 of 52 passes (67.3 percent) for 464 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. He also led the league with a 119.4 quarterback rating.
Bielema saw in Wilson what those from afar couldn’t see: his unrivaled preparation and unparalleled will to succeed.
“I know they paid a lot of money to get Flynn and all that great stuff, but until you see what Russell Wilson does behind the scenes — and you obviously see what he does on game days — even if he wasn’t going to be the starter, you better hope that if you were the starter, if you were Flynn or whoever, you better not roll your ankle one day or have the flu or miss one day of practice, because he’s a relentless, relentless competitor.”
Carroll’s praise of Wilson, a third-round draft pick, sounded similar during a conference call with reporters on Sunday.
“He is so prepared,” Carroll said. “He doesn’t seem like a first-year player. He seems like he’s been around. He gets it, he understands and he is a tremendous leader in that way. He doesn’t do anything but the right thing in all of his work and his preparation and his competitiveness has been demonstrated again.”
Bielema, who exchanged congratulatory text messages with Wilson, said he recently watched a video clip of Wilson interacting with his Seattle teammates. The connection was one Bielema had seen before.
“Just to see him kind of engage in that locker room,” Bielema said, “I walked out of there, I’m like, ‘He’s got that locker room wrapped around his finger.'”
Wilson will make his NFL regular-season debut Sept. 9 against Arizona.