Russell Wilson: The Chosen One
Wilson lets his faceplate slip only once at camp; it’s when Ciara’s tiny son, Future, shows up with his nanny. Wilson trots to the sideline and takes 10 minutes to roll the kid a ball, play patty-cake and exchange high-fives. It’s a rare unscripted — or seemingly unscripted — moment for Wilson, whose greatest trait as a quarterback is his escapability on the field with defenders and off the field with the media.
With Future (his father is the rapper of the same name), Wilson seems to uncoil, but he quickly snaps back into game mode. There are awards to be proffered and a dance-off among five kids to judge. Afterward, kids and parents get to ask questions. Wilson is most comfortable answering queries about his “Morning in America” work ethic, detailing how he graduated from college in three years while playing football and baseball. Then someone asks about the interception. He is polite, but curt. “This is the sixth location I’ve been at in this wonderful, beautiful country, and I seem to get that question everywhere I go,” says Wilson. “The play that was called didn’t work out for us. This is what I do know: Next time we’re gonna win the game. I’ll be there. I won’t let you down.”
Wilson mentions that he’s been planning to do camps like this since he was in 11th grade (many of the kids are on scholarship). He tells his coaches that if they can positively impact one kid, it’s all worth it. The camp winds down, but Wilson sees one more kid and a final teachable moment. A camper is walking off with a football. Wilson shouts at him across the field.
“Hey, that ball isn’t yours. It stays here.”
The boy answers in a small voice. “But I brought the ball with me.”
Wilson flashes that politician smile and quickly changes gear.
“OK, bro. Hope you had a good time.”
Russell Wilson stands about five feet 11, which is a nice height unless you’re an NFL quarterback. In that case, you’ve grown up with a chip the size of an exurban deck on your shoulder. Naysayers used to get their words of doubt scribbled on Post-it notes that went on Wilson’s wall. When he was a freshman at NC State, a coach suggested Wilson should switch to defensive back. Instead, Wilson went into the head coach’s office and proclaimed he would be named the starting quarterback, become All-ACC and be drafted into the NFL. All those things came true. Even when Wilson slipped to the third round — the height thing again — he told a friend he knew he was going to become the starter.
It all happened just like Russell Wilson believed. Now he is consolidating his gains. Wilson’s role model is Derek Jeter. Wilson was looking forward to having breakfast with him the morning after his camp. They share a passion to keep things with the public cheerful and vanilla. “Whether you’re the Yankees’ shortstop or an NFL quarterback, eyes are always on you,” says Wilson. “You have to handle things the right way.”
Alas, Jeter calls an audible and postpones their breakfast. It is just as well. Wilson is hosting the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports awards, and he spends the morning working with his motivation coach, Trevor Moawad. This is Wilson’s first hosting assignment; he wants to get it just right. “We were just going through lines, and Russell was talking about nonverbal, para-verbal, extra-verbal and voice tone,” says Moawad, who has worked with Olympic legend Michael Johnson and national champion football teams at the University of Alabama and Florida State.
“The thing about Russell is he’s real.” —Ciara
We are on the floor of UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion during the Nickelodeon rehearsals, and Moawad gazes up lovingly at Wilson, who is onstage talking about getting “slimed.” “You don’t usually see a 26-year-old with this kind of forethought,” says Moawad. “He can anticipate things before they happen. He doesn’t need trauma to prepare.”
Wilson and Moawad didn’t spend the offseason rehashing the interception; instead, they spent hours watching video medleys of Wilson’s best plays. “A lot of people catastrophize things and fall off the mountaintop,” Moawad says. “Russell doesn’t.”
Wilson asks for only one favor all day: a break around 5:00 so he can watch his girlfriend sing the national anthem at the baseball All-Star Game in Cincinnati. Just as the players are being announced, Wilson jogs through the catacombs of the pavilion to a room with a television. He whips out his phone and starts filming his girlfriend. She sounds beautiful, but Wilson notices a microdetail: “She’s pulling at her earpiece. She can’t hear herself.”
It turns out to be true. Wilson Facetimes Ciara a few minutes later. “Baby, you did great, but I could tell you couldn’t hear yourself.”
Ciara’s smile and voice crackle back. “I know, it went dead right before we went on. Did it sound OK?”
“You were great. Love you. See you tomorrow. Can’t wait.”