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July 29, 2011CHICAGO - Russell Wilson knew he was going into a unique situation when he decided to leave the professional baseball ranks for one final shot at college football glory.
He was leaving his element, his home, his life and his past back in North Carolina with hopes up continuing what he had begun as a football player in a far away town situated in south central Wisconsin.
But when he finally got an opportunity to speak to the new group of 100-plus men that he'll spend the fall sweating, bleeding and bonding with, it was his opportunity to set the tone for the season.
"It was really short, sweet and to the point," UW senior free safety Aaron Henry said Friday during the 40th annual Big Ten Meetings at Chicago's Hyatt Regency McCormick Place convention center. "He didn't try to fabricate anything. I think he was just trying to be himself. He was like, 'I'm Russell Wilson. I'm not expecting any handouts. I'm here to work and that's what I want to do."
Wilson, who by now everyone with any sort of college football knowledge knows, is quite the talent. He started three years at quarterback for NC State and led them to two bowl appearances and even appeared on an ACC All-Conference team a time or two.
He threw for nearly triple as many touchdowns (76) as he did interceptions (26) and rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns during the same time. He is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback and one that Wisconsin has never really seen in its program history.
"He's not the most typical Wisconsin quarterback," UW senior defensive lineman Patrick Butrym said. "But we've said this before, we don't need him to be spectacular for us to be spectacular. He just needs to play his game and be in our system. We run the ball, but when his chance comes to make a play, make it.
"I think we all have high expectations for him, but I'm just excited to see him go to work once we get to camp."
With camp set to begin in less than a week, having Wilson on board will do nothing but help the team on many different levels. First and foremost he offers a different type of weapon that should add to what looks to be an already explosive Badger offense. Secondly, he'll provide a stiff test for the No. 1 Badger defense whenever the two units go good on good, particularly early in August.
"I think the nice thing about it is when you look at some of the ways we missed plays last year," Butrym said. "There were a lot of sacks that we missed, especially on my part. Going against him will keep you honest when you rush the passer. It's going to be nice going against a guy that is going to move around back there and not be afraid to take off if you slip a little bit.
"I'm really excited to have that opportunity."
Though Wilson hasn't been made available to the media that often, it's becoming apparent that there aren't many red flags surfacing about his personality. The demeanor he displayed when he addressed the team is a prime example.
Here's a guy that could come into a situation thinking he's a big deal (which, to be frank, Wilson is). He's a guy that could have rolled in and expected the starting job from the get go (Bret Bielema remains adamant that he'll have to earn it). He's a guy that could have developed an ego based on his past laurels and success at NC State and throughout the ACC.
But he didn't.
"It makes a huge difference," UW wide receiver Nick Toon, who played a prominent role in the recruitment of Wilson, said. "That's not the type of guy that Wisconsin recruits. Had he been that, I'm sure that the circumstances would be different."
Wilson, who has passed for better than 8,500 yards during his college career, will open his positional competition with Jon Budmayr when camp begins Aug. 4th. He'll finally get an opportunity to get coached by Bielema and his staff, especially offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Paul Chryst.
He'll be able to learn the system and see it in action.
But to make an already unique situation even more unusual, Bielema insists Wilson won't be handed the job. He will have to earn it throughout camp.
That should make an interesting dynamic, because among other things, if Wilson is going to be the guy this fall as everyone assumes he will be (if that wasn't the plan, why would Bielema even risk bringing in such a distraction), wouldn't it be in his best interest to spend as much time with the No. 1 unit as possible? Wouldn't he have to develop some sort of functioning chemistry with the players he's going to be working with?
It's tough to imagine Wilson splitting reps with Budmayr if he indeed will play such a prominent role in UW's offensive and season success.
"I think Russell Wilson is such a unique story that you can't put parameters on it," Bielema said. "I think you come in, you find out exactly what he can do and how the kids handle him. He's never been in a Wisconsin practice. He doesn't know where we start for skele or flex or anything. So I don't think you can put parameters on it like I have in the past.
"I've mentioned a couple of times that ideally you'd like to know who your starting unit is on both sides of the football 10 days out. I'm not maligned to the fact that the quarterback is a unique deal. I think a lot of it depends on Russell and how he handles things once we get started."
From everything one can gather it seems as though he'll not only figure it all out, but also become a prominent leader by the time it's all said and done.