MADISON - He’s only five games into his University of Wisconsin career, but senior quarterback Russell Wilson has already has won over the hearts of the Badgers program and has generated plenty of talk for a program eager to take the next step up the ladder.
A legitimate contender for a plethora of awards and honors, including the Heisman Trophy, Wilson has been receiving a great amount of attention from the national media after Wisconsin spanked Nebraska, 48-17, last Saturday, attention that he’s used to in the past regarding his time at N.C. State and as a professional baseball player. Media hype and pressure is known among the Badgers football team, especially last season with the trip to the Rose Bowl.
Hype and talk about how great Wilson and the fourth-ranked UW football team is can be seen throughout national sports stations and the social media, including Twitter. After Wilson accounted for 287 total yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska, giving him 1,391 passing yards, 13 passing touchdowns against just one interception this season, Wisconsin’s athletic communication office officially unleashed it’s Wilson Heisman campaign, creating the Twitter handle -@RussellManiaXIV.
“When you’re mentioned in the Heisman race, it’s a positive thing,” Wilson said. “It’s a great thing. I’m a competitor, I want to be the best, and that’s what I work for every single day so it’s a blessing.”
With all of the attention Wisconsin has been getting, it might seem difficult to stay focused on the tasks that lie ahead, especially for Wilson, who has been getting dozens of national media requests and recently appeared on the Dan Patrick radio show and the sport-talk show “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN.
“I was on PTI and that was exciting and fun,” Wilson said. “Being on the air with Tony and Mike - it was pretty awesome. I did the Dan Patrick show, which is cool. I watch both of those shows so it’s pretty exciting to be on.”
Constant media attention, pressure and hype seemed to have somewhat of a focus upon Wilson. Handling this pressure might seem like a tricky task, but Wilson has been doing fine by keeping a level head.
“It seems second nature to him,” senior right tackle Josh Oglesby said. “A lot of the hype has to do with him being here (and) him keeping a level head about it, I think, rubs off on a lot of other people. This team has been around a lot of media attention, you know, so a lot of our older guys and people who were here last year are helping a lot with that too.”
Keeping it in perspective and embracing the attention has been Wilson’s key in handling the pressure. Being the center of the hype and focus on the college football scene is something Wilson embraces without worry. In every interview he does, Wilson makes it a point to signal out the offensive line blocking for him, the running game opening up the passing game and the receivers and tight ends catching his passes to help improve his numbers.
After all, having a running back like Montee Ball – whose 27 rushing TDs since Nov. 6, 2010 is 12 more than South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore in Division 1 football – has only helped Wilson pick apart opposing defenses.
“Russell probably worries about that as little as any guy that is being mentioned in (the Heisman talk),” said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. “Russell takes every day for what it is. For instance, Scott (Tolzien) wouldn’t have wanted to do any of (the extra media), which is great because Scott was very good for us. Russell has kind of embraces it.”
Bielema also knows how Wilson ticks. Without seeing the interview Wilson did on PTI, Bielema correctly guessed that Wilson would say he’s been blessed, talk about the offensive line, mentioned his name and signed off by saying ‘On Wisconsin’ at the end.
“He’s pretty programmed,” Bielema said. “It’s easy to be real when you are real.”
Wilson says that the media attention to him isn’t overwhelming. It comes with being a successful quarterback, and the attention comes with the job running an offense that is on pace to break all of the school’s scoring records a year after many of them were set.
Media attention revolves around key players such as the quarterback and in Wilson’s case, due to his impressive statistics and unique story that shine through UW football history.
Wilson continues to focus on football and count his blessings. Grateful for his athletic abilities, God plays a big role in helping him stay on course, despite pressures and hype that have built up around him.
“I think more than anything my faith has helped me stay on course because it keeps me stable,” Wilson said. “It keeps me humble in knowing that the Lord gives me all the talent that I have, all the blessings that I have, and just giving me the opportunity to play football, to throw the football, to walk, run, to think. All that stuff is really special and is a blessing from the Lord.”
The Badger football team as a whole has gotten a considerable amount of pressure and hype as well. Wilson has a positive impact on the team in dealing with the attention, and helps to keep their focus on what has to be done day-to-day.
Of course, he knows that Heisman glory only comes if Wisconsin keeps winning and if his team keeps clicking. So every time Wilson steps in front of a microphone no matter the stage or the amount of people listening, the message doesn’t change: give credit where credit is due and tell the listener that he’s going to keep working in order to play the best football he can the next day.
That’s the true sign of a player that has the right message.
“I think the main thing is just making sure we ignore the noise,” Wilson said. “Focus on what we need to focus on and that’s getting better on a daily basis. Watching film, working hard in the weight room, working hard in the classroom, just doing the every day stuff that we need to do. I think we have a lot of leaders on this team and I know that guys are working hard every day to improve and perform at a high level.”