Wilson has accomplished much in little time at Wisconsin

Quarterback Russell Wilson is using his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin after graduating from North Carolina State. "I wanted to go to a big-time place with a big-time conference," he says.
Quarterback Russell Wilson is using his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin after graduating from North Carolina State. "I wanted to go to a big-time place with a big-time conference," he says. (SETH PERLMAN / Associated Press)
Posted: November 24, 2011

Russell Wilson will celebrate senior day at Wisconsin on Saturday with teammates who have spent the last four or five years playing for the Badgers, even though he's been in Madison for a little more than four months.

It's been a remarkable season for the Badgers and Wilson, who still had one year of football eligibility remaining when he got his degree in 2010 from North Carolina State and elected to use it at Wisconsin while attending classes there.

The good fortune belongs to the Badgers, who will host Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium with the Big Ten Leaders Division title on the line. But critics have complained that Wilson was, in essence, a free agent able to pick any school he wanted while not subject to the usual transfer rule that requires an undergraduate player to sit out one season.

He also benefited from a provision in the graduate transfer rule that says a player with a degree can pursue a master's in a field that his former school did not offer.

Asked about the criticism, Wilson simply points out he was following the rules.

"I do know that I took care of what I needed to do in terms of getting my education," Wilson said this week in a conference call with reporters. "I worked to graduate in three years, took 18 credits [in a semester], which most students couldn't do. I just put all my effort into excelling in the classroom but also excelling on the football field and the baseball field.

"I continued the following year my grad school program and I was blessed enough to continue to play football. Things didn't work out at N.C. State, so I ended up coming up here to Wisconsin, and it was a great decision. It's great to be a part of something special."

Wilson, who redshirted his first year, has made it special for the Badgers while developing into a Heisman Trophy candidate. He leads the nation in passing efficiency, with a 73.6 percent completion mark, 2,506 yards, and 26 touchdowns, with three interceptions. He also has rushed for 289 yards.

A second baseman, Wilson was drafted last year in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies and played in single A. He wanted to return this summer, but when North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien asked him to give up baseball to focus on football, he declined, and O'Brien told him the team would be moving on without him.

Wilson narrowed the choices rather quickly to Wisconsin and Auburn, and visited each school on one of the two off-days he had the entire baseball season.

"I wanted to go to a big-time place with a big-time conference where I could excel as a football player and an academic as well, continue toward a degree, and finish that," he said. "The tradition here at Wisconsin, the atmosphere, the potential of me playing in the NFL and growing as a quarterback, this was the best place for me."

It's been a great fit for both Wisconsin and Wilson, who came right in to replace two-year starter Scott Tolzien. The holdover players welcomed the new guy with open arms.

"It's been extremely special and a blessing in my life to have everyone accept me the way they have," he said. "I just wanted to be myself, be a guy that works hard every day, one of the first ones here and one of the last ones to leave. I enjoy the opportunity to be able to play football, and they fed off that and I fed off them."

Running back Montee Ball, who has joined Wilson on the list of Heisman contenders, called Wilson "a great guy with a great heart."

"He's got a lot of faith in God and himself and he's a very confident man," Ball said. "He's very poised in the pocket and in the huddle. We're really grateful and blessed that he chose us. He's just a playmaker. We can always count on him to do the right things. He counts on us to do the right things."

Wilson said he was confident that the experience and leadership at Wisconsin before he got there would lead to a special season. The Badgers are 20-odd seconds and two long touchdown passes away from sporting a perfect season heading into Saturday.

Now he gets to play for the chance to compete in the Big Ten's first-ever title game.

"We can't look back," he said. "We have to look forward and realize that we have a great football team. We have to keep battling and keep trusting in one another. That's the great thing about this football team and this program this year, is that everybody believes in one another."

"It's going to be a great battle Saturday. It's going to be fun to play in a huge game like this."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.


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