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A championship offseason
(Published May 22, 2013 for Hawk Mail subscribers)
It was a gorgeous spring afternoon on the shores of Lake Washington. The view of the shimmering lake and Mercer Island in full bloom from the windows along the hallway at Virginia Mason Athletic Center would have been enough to prompt Monet to put brush to canvas.
Russell Wilson? The Seahawks’ second-year quarterback was across that hallway with the portal to that surreal scene, sequestered in the QB meeting room that his teammates and even coaches refer to as Wilson’s office. The lights were off, the door cracked and images of a certain play from a certain game last season danced across the screen on the far wall.
During a rookie season that exceeded everyone’s expectations – except his own – Wilson was fond of saying, “There’s no time to sleep.” Apparently there’s no time to enjoy the serenity of the view from his room, either. Even during the offseason.
That’s because this offseason comes with heightened expectations for Wilson and his team. And if this is going to be a championship season, it must start with a champion offseason.
|WILSON'S WORDS OF WISDOM|
Ignore the noise: “It’s eliminating the distractions. There are so many things that when you’re playing a professional sport, when you’re playing in the National Football League, when you’re a quarterback in the National Football League, there are going to be so many times where everybody thinks you’re the best in the world and sometimes they think you’re the worst. As long as you have that confidence of just staying in the moment, staying in the now and just continuing to compete at the highest level and eliminating those distractions, whether it’s on the field or off the field, the better off you’ll be.”
The separation is in the preparation: “That’s kind of my go-to, just because I really believe at the end of the day, when things are going really well, and you want things to continue to go well, you have to put in the hard work. You have to put in the preparation. When things aren’t going so well, you have to put in the hard work. You have to put in the preparation. That’s just what it comes down to. That’s why I’m here. God really blessed me with the talent to play the game of football, and the arm strength, and the hands, and the mental aptitude to play this game of football. But I think God has also graced me and given me the ability to work harder than anyone else, and have that competitive edge, and to be relentless in my approach. And if I can continue to be relentless in my approach, I think that’s where the separation is.”
It’s a championship game, and we have to go 1-0 this week: “Every week is a championship week. And every practice is really a championship practice when I’m preparing for a game. I think at the end of the day – when you get the attention we’re getting right now, and people think we’re the best team in the National Football League or whatever people think – it’s one of those things where everybody is going to want to bring their A game against us. So, as I see it, we’ve got to bring our A-plus game every week. If we can bring our A-plus game every week, we’ve got a great chance.”
It’s a journey, and you have to respect that process. And I respect that process: “That kind of talks about our team. But really when I usually say that it’s usually just about me and my rookie season. Every year is a new year. Your career is a new career. Life in general is new. When you look at it in terms of the football aspect, I really want to take one day at a time and just really try to be better than I was yesterday. And treat every year as if it’s a new beginning, treat every day as if it’s a new beginning, treat every play as if it’s the first time I’ve ever heard that play. If I can do that, and take the notes the same way I did my rookie year, the same way I will my 10th year, it’s got to be the same every year and it’s got to be the same every day. That’s a system approach. And if I can continue to hammer that consistency, that’s what the game is really about: Can I consistently try to dominate the game. And I think that’s the way you’ve got to approach it.”
You can’t get too high, and you can’t get too low: “You’ve got to have that even-keel approach, especially playing the quarterback position. You want to have that approach where you take one play at a time and you have that laser focus. When you’re hitting things and you’re 20-for-20 and you have five touchdowns, where’s the sixth one? That’s what I always ask myself: Where’s the sixth one? That’s that relentless competitive nature that I try to bring to the table every week, every day. And then you can’t get too low when things aren’t going so well. You have to be the calm in the storm. You have to be the guy that’s relaxed and understanding what’s next. You know, forget about what happened before that play or a couple plays before that. Stay in the moment. Stay right here, right now. If we can do that, and execute that one play, then once we get that play now it’s the next play. And then you stay focused on that next play. So it’s a snowball effect almost – in a positive way. You want to stay focused on the moment and not the things that have kind of beaten you up.”
100 yards is 100 yards: “Coach Carroll and I always talk about that. He’s so funny. He’ll come up to me before the game and go, ‘You know Russ, this field sure does look the same as ours.’ And I always go, ‘You know coach, 100 yards is 100 yards. It’s the same any time we play, anywhere we play.’ It doesn’t change. The field is marked the same whether we play here, there; inside, outside. It may have a different logo, but it’s either grass or turf. That’s just the way I look at it.”
There’s no time to sleep: “That’s kind of my personal slogan. I always say that, and I say it to myself, really. It’s motivation for me. I’ve got no time to sleep. There’s no time to sleep, because there’s somebody else trying to work that much harder than me. And I’m always trying to get that competitive edge. And I always want to continue to grow.”
“The whole idea of having a championship offseason is just preparing your mind and your body and even your spirit to go to war and just get ready to have a great season,” Wilson said. “The key is eliminating the distractions and just focusing on what your ultimate goal is.
“I think the first goal for us is to make sure we prepare the right way and stay healthy. And every time you step out on the field, whether it’s for practice or a game, just be consistent. That’s whether you’re working out, or watching film, or actually on the field playing a game. Let’s be consistent. Let’s be sharp in our execution. And just capitalize on the opportunities we get.”
Wilson entering his first full offseason as the quarterback is fueling the excitement over this team that posted the third-best regular-season record in club history (11-5) and then won the franchise’s first road playoff game since 1983.
“My knowledge of the game is just so much better. My knowledge of our playbook is just so much more – and the guys that we have; how they come out of routes, how they catch the football and all that,” Wilson said. “So I think that, to be honest with you, we’re really looking sharp right now and I think we’ve improved big-time just from last year.”
Also adding to the expectations is the fact that the Seahawks had four players named All-Pro last season – running back Marshawn Lynch, center Max Unger, cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas; and six who played in the Pro Bowl – including left tackle Russell Okung, Lynch, Unger, Sherman and Wilson.
Coach Pete Carroll already has addressed this issue with his team.
“It’s really crucial that we handle it well,” he said. “That reality, it’s really important to own that. As the praise comes, we handle it with humility. You understand it and treat it like it’s no big deal.”
As usual, Carroll can count on his QB to lead the way.
“The challenge is when you start getting more and more attention, whether individually or as a team, you can’t shy away from those opportunities, you can’t shy away from those special moments where people want to interview you or people say a lot of great things about you,” Wilson said. “Those are good things. Those aren’t negative things. But at the end of the day, where’s your focus? Right now, our focus is on football and our focus is on just being the best that we can possibly be.”
Wilson leads by his actions, as well as his words. He is the first player to arrive each day – usually around 6 a.m.; and the last to leave – usually between 4-5 p.m.
“I’m here pretty much all the time,” is the way Wilson puts it.
The day of Harvin’s introductory news conference after he had been acquired in the trade with the Minnesota Vikings, the session was delayed briefly. No one could find Harvin, because Wilson had intercepted him and they were watching video. During the players’ break, when they weren’t allowed to workout at VMAC together, Wilson took the receivers, running backs and other QBs to Southern California for some on-field sessions.
“I think going down to California with the guys was really something that started this whole thing up,” Wilson said. “I’m fired up for the opportunities that lie ahead.
“The thing is, you can’t think too far ahead. The goal is to just stay focused on the now, and the moment you’re in right now. If you can perfect that moment – that time, that play right there – that’s going to allow you to have success in the games.
“That’s got to be our focus right now. Don’t look too far ahead. Don’t listen to all the hype. Ignore the noise. All the stuff outside and all the talk, none of that matters. At the end of the day, what matters is how we prepare – mentally and physically – and making sure that we’re eliminating those distractions so we can stay focused.”
Wilson doesn’t just walk the walk; he also talks the talk – in his own language.
Just like Chuck Knox used to. The news conferences conducted by former Seahawks coach from 1983-91 were liberally sprinkled with what seemed like platitudes, but were actually the words by which Knox lived his life and coached his players. They became known at Knoxisms.
You remember: “Play the hand you’re dealt.” “Luck is the residue of hard work.” “Don’t tell me how rough the water is, just bring the ship in.” “If a hair on my head knew what I was thinking, I’d pluck it out.” “Coaches don’t win games, players do.” “People say they are ready, but are they prepared? They’re ready for anything but prepared for nothing.” “Make second effort a part of your personality.” “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” “Play like the opponent has his hand in your back pocket.” “Yesterday is a cancelled check. Tomorrow is a promissory note. But today is cash on the barrelhead.” “I’m going to speak real soft so you can listen real hard.” “What you do speaks so well, there’s no need to hear what you say.”
Flash forward three decades and several NFL generations, and Wilson has his own collection of sayings by which he lives his life – Wilson’s Words of Wisdom, if you will.
With that, Wilson returned to the task at hand: Reviewing plays from last year so he can execute them even better this season. Forget that view. Never mind the heightened expectations for him and his team. Those are not among the things needed to comprise a championship offseason that can create a championship season.