Darrell Bevell was an early observer of just how composed
Before the Seahawks considered selecting the quarterback in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Even before Wilson had won the starting job as a rookie. Long before he tied the NFL rookie record by throwing 26 touchdown passes while leading the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and the franchise’s first road playoff victory since 1983.
That’s because Bevell was a quarterback at the University of Wisconsin long before becoming the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator.
“That’s something I noticed when he was at Wisconsin,” Bevell said through a smile. “I watch all their games, obviously. So just sitting there watching, not having any clue (he would end up with the Seahawks), just a fan at the time, I couldn’t believe how poised he was.”
That was in 2011, Wilson’s only season at Wisconsin when he led the Badgers to the Big 10 title and a berth in the Rose Bowl – where he passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third in a 45-38 loss to Oregon.
“Everything’s storming down around him and he looked like he was going through pat-and-go,” Bevell said of a drill where the QB pats the ball and then throws without a pass rush. “That’s just something that he’s always brought and he’s brought here with him, as well.”
Has he ever. Flash forward to the fourth quarters of the Seahawks’ back-to-back road games at Houston and Indianapolis the past two weeks and there’s Wilson, as cool as the proverbial cucumber when everything around him is jalapeños.
Where does this inner peace while surrounded by chaos come from?
And his life experiences at this early stage of his life. He has played football and baseball at the professional level, as well as in college. He graduated early from college. His father passed away in 2010, just as Wilson was beginning the process of transferring from North Carolina State to Wisconsin.
“Having all these things on me all at once really prepared me for those situations,” he said.
Then there’s Wilson’s mental makeup.
“I’m a self-motivator,” he said. “I want those moments. I think about last week. With a minute, 55 seconds (left in the game against the Colts), I want the ball. There’s nothing I could ask for more in the situation.
“You’re going to win some; you’re going to lose some. But at the end of the day, I never shy away from that moment.”
On that day, Wilson didn’t win, as his fourth-and-15 pass with 90 seconds remaining was intercepted and the Colts had their 34-28 victory. But Wilson also has directed seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime during his 23-start NFL career, including playoffs.
“I understand there’s going to be a process to learning the whole thing,” said Wilson, conceding that he’s still in the early stages of that process. “The game is not easy. Playing in the National Football League, everything is not going to be perfect. You have to understand, they have great players, too. So when you understand that and you understand that playing in the situation, playing in the moment and being in those situations, you learn from them, you grow from them. Whether it’s good or bad.”
Wilson has two things he falls back on to help him do all that – and through all that.
“I find a spot in the stadium, just to bring me back to zero, just to make me relax,” he said – and no, he’s not about to divulge where that back-to-zero spot might be. “The other thing I do is just focus on my fundamentals. Focus on the fundamentals of my footwork. Focus on the fundamentals of the protections and all that.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it is. Because I know I’ve prepared the right way. So I think that’s what helps me play, and that’s what helps me stay relaxed in those moments.”
Wilson’s calming effect is contagious – for those in the huddle with him, as well as those communicating with him from the sideline.
“Russell is just a cool, collected guy that nothing rattles him,” Miller said. “He moves on to the next play. He doesn’t let things stick with him, let them bother him. He’s really great at kind of blocking things out and just having a really good focus.”
And it’s not just once the ball is snapped that Wilson becomes the eye in the storm of everything swirling around him.
“In the huddle, he’s really keyed in on getting us lined up, getting the play out,” Miller said. “Before a drive starts, he’ll say something sometimes. But he’s really tuned in to kind of getting us moving, getting the offense rolling, making sure guys are in the right spot.”
And none of this is as easy as Wilson makes it look.
“We have a complex system, where he’s got to read a lot of things – his checks, alters, those types of things,” Miller said. “So he has to always be reading the defense. He does a good job of staying focused.”
Even when everything around him seems to be a blur.
“I don’t remember the last time I was ever flustered,” Wilson said.