Years before Russell Wilson silenced the doubters and defied the odds as a Black quarterback in the NFL with short stature, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback was a star under center for Collegiate School in Richmond, Virginia.
It was there that Wilson honed his passion for football, something Wilson’s coach Charlie McFall, who served as the head coach at Collegiate from 1986 to 2006, saw when Wilson was only in the sixth grade.
“I learned kind of early,” McFall said of Wilson’s potential back in 2013. “A game when he was my ball boy when his brother played, and maybe for the first time in his life Russell wasn’t paying attention. And the referees hollered, where’s the ball? Throw the ball out here. And next thing the ball goes flying out there and everybody’s going ‘wow’ and the referees was going who is that…
In Richmond, Wilson got his first taste of adversity, too. College coaches began to question his height, overlooking his impressive sports resume that included multiple Player of the Year honors and three-consecutive state titles with the Cougars.
After lukewarm attention from colleges in-state, Wilson settled on NC State, where he played three seasons for the Wolfpack, throwing for 8.545 yards, rushing for nearly 1,100 more and recorded 93 touchdowns during a standout career.
One day things took a turn for the worse.
“I called my football coach at NC State and said, 'Hey coach, I'd like to come back for my senior year,” Wilson told Sheil Kapadia in 2016. “He told me I wasn't coming back. He said, 'Listen son, you're never going to play in the National Football League. You're too small. There's no chance. You've got no shot. Give it up.' Of course, I'm on this side of the phone saying, 'So you're telling me I'm not coming back to NC State? I won't see the field?' He said, 'No son, you won't see the field.'
But Wilson wasn’t going to let that stop him, and he got a second chance at Wisconsin. With the Badgers, Wilson threw for for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2011 while leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl. His success led him to be picked in the third round (No. 75 overall) of the 2012 NFL draft by the Seahawks.
A lot has changed since Wilson has visited his old stomping grounds, but when the Seahawks travel to Landover, Maryland for Sunday’s game vs. the Washington Football Team, just two hours away from his hometown, Wilson will always remember where he came from.
“Russell is who he is,” McFall said. “He’s got an enormous amount of confidence in himself. Mature beyond his years...
Like 20-plus years ago, Wilson’s still looking to prove the naysayers wrong, too. Despite winning a Super Bowl, being named Rookie of the Year, earning All-Pro, and being named to seven Pro Bowls in his illustrious career, he’s surprisingly never earned a single MVP vote.
Wilson will have an opportunity to silence his greatest critics and express gratitude for his hometown roots when the Seahawks play on Sunday vs. Washington. With a win this weekend, Seattle will clinch its eighth playoff berth in nine years.