Tight end Luke Willson joined Seahawks Radio Network executive producer Matt 'Stretch' Johnson on 'The Daily Stretch' Seahawks.com podcast on Thursday, the same day Seattle players reported to 2015 training camp, which kicks off with practice number one on Friday. You can listen to the full interview right here (or via the audio file embedded above). A few highlights from the pair's conversation are outlined below.
Where Did Willson's Touchdown Celebration Come From?
If you're not familiar with Willson's touchdown celebration, take a look at this clip from the Seahawks' divisional-round playoff win over the Carolina Panthers this past January. Essentially, once Willson crosses the goal line, he spikes the football and throws his arms emphatically toward the sky. Willson said it's a celebration he borrowed from Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, who during a 2012 match against Manchester City scored a goal on a ridiculous bicycle kick and followed it up by running to the corner of the pitch and gracefully extending his arms upward.
"I remember thinking, 'Wow,'" said Willson, a fan of Udinese Calcio, an Italian football club. "It was kind of one of those jaw-dropping things you see on T.V."
Willson was watching with his college teammates at Rice and the group decided that whoever scored next would bring Rooney's celebration to the American football field.
"It kind of started from there and I brought it into the NFL," said Willson. "And it's really kind of taken a life of its own now."
So much so, in fact, that Rooney himself reached out to Willson on Twitter after catching word that "some guy in America" was doing his celebration. Sitting next to fellow tight end Cooper Helfet at the time, Willson received a tweet from the Red Devils standout.
"I was like, 'Dude, I think Wayne Rooney just messaged me,'" Willson said. "I didn't think it was like a real thing on Twitter, but I clicked it and it was actually Wayne Rooney. It was a cool moment for me."
An even cooler moment came earlier this month, when Manchester United trained at Seahawks headquarters ahead of an International Champions Cup match at Seattle's CenturyLink Field. The two players who share a celebration got to connect for a brief moment.
"It was neat when I found out they were in town there and we got to exchange footballs and stuff," Willson said. "I've got a nice Wayne Rooney signed football, which is kind of neat. So again, it was pretty cool meeting him."
What Will Jimmy Graham Bring?
Willson expressed excitement when asked about the Seahawks' addition of three-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, who Seattle acquired in an offseason trade with the New Orleans Saints.
"I think, with Jimmy, he adds such an amazing dimension to our offense that it's going to be neat in the sense of we can attack you in a variety of ways," Willson said. "Like you said, in the past other teams have learned not to sleep on our receivers - Doug, Jermaine, all those guys. You've got a quarterback in Russ who is a tremendous passer, a tremendous scrambler, and he can also run the ball on designed runs. Then obviously, in my opinion, we've got the best back in the NFL - Marshawn."
With all those weapons it's safe to say Willson feels fortunate to be playing professional football in the Pacific Northwest.
"I'm not a D-coordinator," he said. "But I'm sure they get some headaches trying to figure out how to stop exactly what we're trying to do."
New Year, New Goals
The Seahawks selected Willson in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft as a relatively unknown but speedy tight end out of Rice University. The 6-foot-5, 252-pounder went on to become arguably the most productive member of Seattle's rookie class that season, hauling in 20 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown in a backup role behind then-starter Zach Miller. Willson started 10 games in 2014 after Miller was placed on injured reserve early in the season and steadily improved upon his initial year in the League, bringing in 22 balls for 362 yards and three scores.
From his rookie campaign to his sophomore season, Willson said his focus was to improve as a blocker in the team's run-first offense. A new year brings new goals for the third-year tight end.
"For this upcoming season a lot of it for me is kind of getting in and out of routes a little more clean," Willson said. "Just creating that little extra foot, or whatever it is, of separation. Even how I'm kind of attacking certain routes going into certain coverages and getting there, or a timing thing, and kind of just becoming more of a student of the game. That's kind of my big thing I'm focusing on this year and I think it's going to be a great training camp for me."
A LaSalle, Ontario native, Willson said he spent a majority of his time off training in his home country, in between fishing expeditions, of course, what he called his "little breaks."
"For me, it was a lot of first step off the line," Willson said of his offseason workout regime. "So that was my big thing, blocking and getting out of routes, was really trying to keep that first step explosive, sharp, quick. You know, I've always been able to run pretty good, so if I can make things faster on the front end of it I've got a lot of faith in the straightaway speed."