N.C. State's Russell Wilson Continues His Travels Down Two-Sport Path
The next morning, Wilson drove home to Richmond, Va., to be with his family.
"I told him I had been drafted,'' Russell Wilson said of the conversation with his father that day. "I told him all about it. I believe that he heard me.
"And then he slowly passed away that night.''
On June 9, Harrison Wilson finally succumbed to complications from diabetes after battling the illness for years. He was 55.
That his passing came one day after the draft was not lost on the Wilson family.
"It was almost like he was waiting for that day,'' said Harrison Wilson IV, Russell's older brother.
But the beginning of Russell Wilson's life as a professional baseball player did not mark the end of his quest to become a pro football player as well. That dream he shared with his father remains.
So after spending a month this summer with the Tri-City Dust Devils, a Rockies farm team in the Class A Northwest League, Wilson is back on campus at N.C. State and going through two-a-day practices in preparation for the Wolfpack's season opener against Western Carolina on Sept. 4.
An All-ACC first-team selection as a freshman in 2008, Wilson is on the preseason watch list for the Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to the best college quarterback in the country. He led the conference with 31 touchdown passes last season.
"I think certainly his dad wishes that he would be an NFL player or a Major League Baseball player,'' N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said last month during the annual ACC media days. "I believe he's coming back this year to try to solve the issue: Can he be an NFL player? He's already got his opportunity to be a Major League Baseball player. I think that keeps him focused and keeps him driven.''
Right now, Wilson isn't ready to choose which way to go.
"I love baseball and I love football both,'' he said, refusing to hint where he is leaning.
Maybe that's because Wilson, 21, has never had to choose before. He has been a starting quarterback, a starting baseball player and a top scholar-athlete in his three years at N.C. State, never allowing one to diminish the others. Wilson has already graduated; he is now studying for his master's in communcations.
"He has a weird clock in his head,'' N.C. State teammate and friend Owen Spencer said of Wilson's ability to excel in so many areas. "That's just his drive and that's what he was blessed with. ... That's just Russell. He does everything.''
It's a family trait. His father was a two-sport star at Dartmouth and had a tryout with the San Diego Chargers before becoming a lawyer. His grandfather was president of Norfolk State University. Wilson's brother, Harry, was a two-sport athlete at the University of Richmond.
As if he wasn't preoccupied enough, Russell Wilson recently added fiance to his many titles when he became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Ashton Meem, in July.
Ultimately, Wilson probably won't have to choose between baseball and football. That decision might be made for him. At 5-11, Wilson is undersized as a pro quarterback prospect, and that's the position he insists he would want to play. Dana Bible, the N.C. State offensive coordinator who was a former quarterbacks coach with Cincinnati Bengals and offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, hedged when asked if Wilson could make it in the NFL.
"I don't have a crystal ball so I don't know what the future holds, really, for any of our players,'' he said. "I know that in our offense, he gives us an outstanding chance to be successful and I also know that at the next level, they're looking for good football players. Coaches, personnel people, they're looking for people that can be productive and be successful on the football field and you know, time and opportunity is going to determine what he future holds for Russell and I can't speculate on that.''
In the meantime, the Rockies already have long-term plans for Wilson.
"Premium athlete,'' said Marc Gustafson, senior director of player development for Colorado. "There's work to be done as there's work to be done for every young guy. His athleticism, his ability to make adjustments is impressive to a lot of us in the organization.''
Wilson hit .230 in 32 games for the Dust Devils. He hit two home runs in 122 at-bats, and committed only one error at second base. He stole four bases. The Rockies fully expect Wilson to attend spring training next year, not prepare for the NFL draft.
"We agreed he can go play football for another season,'' Gustafson said of the contract Wilson signed.
If it is to be his last year, the Wolfpack can only hope Wilson starts off 2010 season the way he ended 2009. He threw four touchdown passes in the final game of the year, a 28-27 upset of 23rd-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 28 that helped soothe a disappointing 5-7 season.
That victory also marked the last time Harrison Wilson III was able to see his son play football.
"My mom got him out of the hospital and drove him down to the game,'' Russell Wilson said. "He didn't say too much. He was smiling ear-to-ear.''
A few months after the season ended, Wilson went up to Richmond to sit down with his father and talk about his life.
"It was just me and him,'' Wilson said. "I just told him things were going well, I told him what was going on with baseball, what was going on with football.
"He just told me to keep working hard and never settle, there's a king in every crowd. Just continue to work hard, continue to get better and just try to be the best.''
That was the last time the father was able to speak to his son. But Russell Wilson is certain it will not be the last time they are together.
"I know he's right there with me,'' Wilson said. "He's one of my kings watching over me right now.
"He's always there.''