The Seahawks’ cornerback was a surprise speaker Friday afternoon in the team’s locker room at Qwest Field for a group of 24 teachers from Seattle Public Schools that was being saluted in the Symetra “Heroes in the Classroom” program.
The group of educators was treated to a luncheon and tour of the stadium – from the press box, to the field, to the locker room. At the final stop, they found placards bearing their names above cubicles, and the lockers contained pictures of them and Seahawks hats.
That’s when Wilson walked in, looking and sounding very much like some of the students these classroom heroes are mentoring.
“I just want to let you know how important teachers have been in life,” Wilson told the group. “I wasn’t always this good student that you see before you. I had a lot of rough edges.”
Wilson, a second-round draft choice in 2007, has achieved a lot in his first three seasons with the Seahawks. In 2008, he led the NFL with eight kickoff returns of 40-plus yards and set club for kickoff returns (69) and yards (1,753). He returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown in his rookie season and an interception 75 yards for a score to ice a 2008 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Last season, he had interceptions returns of 65 and 61 yards for touchdowns.
But Wilson, the surprise speaker, then surprised the teachers when he listed what he considers his two greatest accomplishments – winning the James Tatum Award as the top football student-athlete in the ACC while at the University of Maryland (which drew a round of applause from the group) and being named the Seahawks Man of the Year in 2009 for his community activities.
“Those are the hardest to get,” he said. “God blessed me with the talent to be able to go out and play football and just perform at a high level, but it’s a challenge to be able to perform at a high level on the football field and in the classroom.”
Or the community. As Wilson told the teachers, “You never know who’s going to be that student that you can change their life by just continuing to go at it.”
Those in the group got the message, and appreciated being honored by a former honor student turned NFL player.
“I was really flattered and grateful and humble, and all those kinds of things,” Elizabeth Sims, a special-education teacher at John Muir Elementary School, said of being selected for the Symetra program.
Sims, who showed up wearing a personalized 12th Man jersey, was holding – no, embracing – her nameplate as she said that.
“This means I can go back and put this up on the door of my classroom and hopefully impress all the fourth-grade boys,” Sims said. “Anything to get the boys to pay attention and make them realize, ‘Well, maybe she does have something to say here.’ ”
Wilson scored extra credit when he told the group about the teacher who transformed him from a disciple problem to an honor student – Mrs. McNair, his eighth-grade teacher.
“She made a lasting impression,” he said. “I used to always finish my work before everybody. Especially in math – whatever you could do in two seconds, I got do in one. So we’d have a 60-minute assignment and I’d finish it in 15 minutes. To me, that left 30 minutes to mess with everyone else in the class.
“So as soon as I would finish, she’d say, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this?’ And she’d give me extra work to do – harder work. That was a turning point in my life, because I realized I could be better than what I was. I didn’t have to stay in the eighth grade. I could do ninth-grade work in the eighth grade. … She let me realize I could get out of this box. I didn’t need to conform to what everybody else wanted me to be.”
Mrs. McNair even achieved the unthinkable. “She talked me into being in the math club,” Wilson said.
The math club? For Josh Wilson, football star and son of the late Tim Wilson – who was Earl Campbell’s lead-blocking fullback for the Houston Oilers in the 1980s?
“I was the cool kid in school, I can’t be in the math club,” Wilson said. “But the fact that she got me involved in that was huge. It changed my life.”
For the better, obviously.