Russell Wilson, the Early Years
Think you know everything about Russell Wilson?
The 2007 Collegiate graduate who’s achieved rock star status as the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks has been the subject of incredible media attention over the past couple of years, so if you’ve seen even a small portion of his games, interviews, and advertisements, you know plenty.
Wilson is articulate, unfailingly polite, charismatic, and honorific when discussing his teammates and the Seahawks’ opponents, especially the Denver Broncos whom they’ll face in the Super Bowl Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
In fact, the mere mention of the name “Russell” conjures images of No. 3 evading would-be tacklers or appearing before the cameras or encouraging teammates or bringing smiles to the faces of patients at the Seattle Children’s Hospital with his wife Ashton.
The press has pretty much recorded his every move, but, believe it or not, there was once a time before “Russell” was a household name.
Here are reflections from three of his former coaches.
Trip Featherston ‘87, a long-time Collegiate coach and physical education teacher, recalls a moment from a summer league basketball game when Harry Wilson ‘01, Russell’s older played on the team. I remember vividly being in the parking lot when Russell and his dad showed up. They always had a football, always had a glove, always had a baseball. I remember asking Russell, “What’s your favorite sport?” At about that time, he was sixth or seventh grade. He said – and I’ll never forget this – “Whatever’s in season.” Sure enough, every season, he put everything into football or basketball or baseball. When he was that young, he had that focus. In the off-season, he worked on everything. It was pretty neat to watch him grow up like that.
Featherston also serves as defensive coordinator for the varsity football team. When Russell was a junior, I’d find him and Scott Pickett (a classmate, teammate, and lifelong friend) watching film on their own. Russell kept detailed notes on every player, every defensive back, every lineman. He went the extra mile in every part of the game. Russell started at cornerback for three years. Junior and senior year, he never left the field. He returned punts. Returned kickoffs. He was a pretty darn good lock-down corner. No one really knows that. Our defense back then was a 4-4 with a cover-three. So really, our two corners, Russell and Scott, were pretty much on an island on their own the entire game against teams’ top receivers. Andrew Stanley
, now an associate director of athletics, was a part-time teaching assistant and second-grade recess monitor his first year (’96-’97) at Collegiate. We played recess football where we split all the kids up into two lines and everybody went long. Very quickly, Russell and his core group of friends took to this. You could tell Russell was special. It was obvious. He could throw that little rubber football a mile.
Stanley also coached Harry Wilson’s Middle School football team. Russell would hang out at practices listening, taking everything in. It was pretty cool. Then at recess, he’d get frustrated because I’d have everybody go long. My job, I thought, was to make sure everybody caught a pass. Russell wanted to learn football. Very early, Russell said, “Teach us football like you teach my brother.” So I started drawing routes in the dirt and teaching them some of the double wing offense we were using throughout the system. Very quickly, Russell took the ball and started moving players and calling plays. My job went from being the passer to making sure Russell was spreading the ball out and that recess was a happy place. He had a mind for football and a passion and desire to take charge and be a leader. Any time you see a good person grow up and have success, it’s exciting.
Well before Russell was old enough to play Cub football, Stanley remembers discussion about his “playing up.” Russell was more about playing with his class than accelerating himself. It was so interesting to watch him deal with classmates, some of whom were in the same neighborhood as he was athletically, some of whom were not, and watching from second grade through high school and college the way he effortlessly brought his teams along, picked up the kids who were not as athletic, and making kids feel like they were equal. Russell has always made his teammates better. You can see it watching the Seahawks now.
Brian Justice ‘85, a long-time basketball coach at Collegiate and All-Prep point guard, has often scrimmaged with the kids. Russell is the only Collegiate basketball player who I’ve ever been nervous to play against. That was for fear of my own safety. One time, I was participating in a practice and cut through the lane. He jacked me up with his elbow/forearm to cut into my path. It was legal, but from that moment on, I was always nervous for my person.
Justice also assists with Cub football and recalls a St. Christopher’s game when the Cougars trailed by a touchdown in the closing minute. We had one last possession. We went shotgun, no-huddle, all the way down the field. Russell was able to orchestrate that as a seventh grader, which was pretty cool. We went about 80 yards in under a minute, got inside the 10, but fell short. The fact that we were able to execute no-huddle with all hand signals was just amazing. Russell had the poise and leadership to pull that off.
-- Weldon Bradshaw