Posing in the middle of almost 300 area youth football players for a group photo Saturday at his passing academy at the University of Washington, Russell Wilson propped himself onto his tiptoes a few times to see better.
Sidney Rice didn’t have this problem — Rice is 6-foot-4 to Wilson’s 5-11.
But Wilson’s stature had no effect on his ability to command the hoard of kids – whether is was for a synchronized holler of “1-2-3 … Go Hawks!” or to follow him to the next station. When he spoke, the children listened.
And it’s not just the kids who are listening. At this point last year, people weren’t concerned about what he said, only about his ability to throw over much taller linemen. Now, the only worries are whether he can live up to expectations he established last season.
“Summer is coming up, training camp is coming up — we are excited. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Wilson said while surrounded by about a dozen kids. “And, obviously, we have to compete at the highest level and we are ready to do that.”
Wilson’s emphasis at his camp wasn’t so much about helping kids develop physical abilities as much as working on their mindset and giving them confidence.
It’s an interesting aspect to teach, considering his Seahawks are learning it on the fly.
With pundits such as NFL.com, ESPN.com and many others picking Seattle to go to the Super Bowl out of the AFC this season, even with a week and a half to go before the start of training camp, Wilson’s greatest task is ensuring his team (yes, it’s now his team) keeps its focus and doesn’t get distracted by the hype.
Warren Moon, one of many current and former Seahawks who helped Wilson at the camp, says it’s a very real challenge for a young Seahawks team. But not for Wilson.
“That will be tough for a lot of guys on the team to handle, but not that guy,” Moon said as he pointed in the direction of Wilson across the field. “That guy, you can be sure about. You don’t have to worry about him because he expects to be great.
“He talks about it all the time. I remember he talked about it to me the first time I met him — that he wanted to be great and how his father used to tell him ‘Don’t be afraid to be great.’ ”
It’s that same mentality Wilson is pushing onto his teammates, and it’s much easier to do compared with last season because he’s no longer the undersized rookie quarterback trying to keep his head above water at training camp. This time around, he is a vocal leader, willing to speak his mind, with plenty of respect from the other players.
“That’s what we are trying to teach these kids with this camp … to be mentally tough,” Wilson said. “To limit the distractions and continue to play football the right way and be the best at what you do. No matter if it’s the quarterback position, the running back, defensive back, whatever it is, let’s make sure we fine-tune it and get better.”
Moon said he and Wilson have become close since they first spoke following last year’s rookie minicamp, when many expected the third-round pick out of Wisconsin to back up Matt Flynn — not take the Seahawks to within 31 seconds of reaching the NFC Championship game.
Wilson regularly seeks out Moon for advice, and utilized him during plane trips last season to go over tape.
“He has got a lot more confidence this year,” Moon said. “Not so much in his own ability because I think he has always had that. But I think it’s a different confidence now with so many people believing in him. He’s not out there trying to audition anymore. And he still leaves no stones unturned when it comes to his work ethic. He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen in sports.”
If that isn’t displayed through his countless hours of watching film or reputation as the first man to practice and last one to leave, then maybe it’s by using his “vacation” to hold youth football academies across the United States. The guy can’t get enough football, but Moon said he urges Wilson to take breaks once in a while.
It has earned Wilson the respect of his team and the credibility to not only speak, but also be heard.
“We are going to see him being more vocal this year,” Moon said. “He wasn’t as vocal last year because you don’t come in as a rookie and act like you know it all. Last year it would be like ‘Why are you telling me what to do?’ Now, whatever he says these guys are going to listen.”
If he can get hundreds of screaming kids to listen, a professional football team can’t be that much harder.TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 email@example.com @Cotterill44