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June 28, 2011MADISON - Apparently Russell Wilson, in addition to every other glowing remark he's received from his former coaches at N.C. State, his coaches at his minor league baseball squad and any other person that's been associated with him, has a sense of humor about him.
At least that's what his new head coach Bret Bielema had to say when he met with local reporters for nearly 20 minutes Tuesday afternoon.
"I had prepared the scholarship papers last week because I felt this decision was coming and I wanted to have them ready," Bielema explained. "So when I left the office last Friday I thought I had placed them on the middle of my desk but I brought them home with me. I came in here to fax them and I couldn't find them. I had to run home so I shot him an email since we can't call him and said that I basically left them on my kitchen counter and that I had to go back and get them.
"He was like, 'Coach, you've got to be better prepared than that.' That's just kind of how he is."
From all accounts, Wilson is a 'Grade A' person. He finished school in three years at NC State with a very impressive GPA. He left the Wolfpack on solid terms and he remained a class act throughout the first few months of his baseball season with the Asheville (NC) Tourists of the Colorado Rockies minor league system.
He'll bring a great skill set, one that Wisconsin hasn't really enjoyed at the quarterback position, to Madison and one that has both fans and the coaching staff very excited.
"He wasn't promised the starting job," Bielema said. "But obviously as a guy with just one year of eligibility I'm not going to bring you in with the intention of seeing you sit on the bench. He's going to come in and try to earn the starting job. I was very cautious about the way our current quarterbacks as well as our players (would react), but he was very well received on his short visit here.
"Everything I've heard of him suggests he'll be a good fit once he's here full time."
That may be sooner rather than later. According to the sixth-year head coach, Wilson was very eager to get to Madison so he can get a head start working on assimilating into the program, including everything from getting to know the players to getting a feel for the terminology used in Paul Chryst's offense.
Though Bielema and his coaching staff won't be able to personally coach him, Wilson, when he arrives on campus in the coming days, will be able to get together with several players who will bear the burden of getting him comfortable both on and off the field in Madison.
"Our players will be the best coaches," Bielema said. "The part that I've learned about him is that he's a very quick learner. He learns things very quickly, not only in reference to the way he graduated from NC State in three years, but the fact that it will carry over to the football field very quickly."
When Wilson made his decision official during Monday afternoon's "College Football Live" program on ESPN, he made it clear that he was willing to do whatever it takes to get into the good graces of his new teammates.
"I think it's important that I get to know my teammates on the field and off the field," Wilson said during the show. "Just really work hard every single day to be the best that I can be every single day. Hopefully the teammates will be welcoming; I know they will. I'm really excited that and I'm going to be working hard every single day.
"That's the important part, I want to be an additional leader to the team that they already have and just win a lot of games."
Wisconsin will have a good chance to do that in 2011. They'll return two of the best running backs in the Big Ten, if not the country, an offensive line that has plenty of experience, a defense that will have the services of Chris Borland and a fan base full of high expectations.
Wilson, who chose Wisconsin over Auburn because he fell in love with the tradition, success and personality of the coaching staff, will have approximately a month to get used to his new surroundings. When he gets onto campus he'll be thrust into a summer conditioning program that Ben Herbert will coordinate.
It's got to be a change going from a baseball mindset to one that prepares you for the rigors of Big Ten football.
"Once he clears his physical he's just like an incoming freshman," Bielema said. "He wanted to get here tomorrow (Wednesday), but I encouraged him to spend some time with his family because once he comes here it will basically be until all this is done. I know he's very interested in taking classes starting July 11th. Hopefully he'll get his physical passed sometime next week.
"Then he'll start running."
Looking from the outside in, and really from the inside in, this type of recruitment is one that is unheard of in Wisconsin circles. Sure the Badgers have dabbled with quarterback transfers in the past, most recently surrounding former Kansas State quarterback Allan Evridge, this one seems to be one of the more intriguing recruitments in all of UW history.
"Because he was playing professional baseball, he literally had two days off," Bielema said. "One day he went to Auburn and one day he came here. The set of rules that apply to him is it's kind of like recruiting a high school kid that's in the recruiting stage but you couldn't go see him. It was very frustrating for me. When you're recruiting a young man usually you get to know their family and you go into their home."
Bielema actually opined for a special exemption in order to get into Wilson's home, but when the NCAA turned that request down, the recruitment became even more interesting.
"My point was that this was such a unique recruiting process that you can't really apply high school rules to the situation," Bielema said. "As soon as I got the transfer and we started to decide we were going down this road I wanted to send either myself or a coach to go watch a baseball game to give an on site evaluation, but they wouldn't allow that because it's a professional environment. One thing we did do, which I thought was a good thing on our part, was to send Paul Chryst to his high school to gather any information as to what kind of person he was.
"I don't think anybody else in the country did that."
Other places did try to paint a disparaging picture about the UW program, though. Apparently certain schools tried to claim that Wisconsin is a run first program that wouldn't fully utilize Wilson's talents as a quarterback.
"I had to battle that," Bielema said. "That's all he kept throwing back in my face. Other schools tried to use that against us by saying we were a run oriented school. Well, we're an offense-oriented school. I understand and I get that we have good running backs, but there are not a lot of people in college football, especially over the past couple of years, that have been as balanced as we are. That's the part that we hopefully wound up selling to him.
"We said he had a chance to come in here and you're not going to have to do it on your own. I believe some other people that were recruiting him were telling him that hey, 'You're the man, you're going to win the Heisman and we're going to win the national championship.
"Whereas my plan was to say that this is what we are and if he wanted to fit in with us he could be tremendously successful. It has been a good awakening for me to realize that on a national level we could compete with anybody."
And that's all Wilson needed to hear.
"I never want to be told that I have the starting job," Wilson told ESPN. "I never believe in that. I believe that being the competitor that I am that I have to compete every single day. Whether you're in Little League or big-time college football, or the NFL or Major League Baseball, I think it's about competition and being the best every single day. That's the most important part.
"Once I found out that I would be given the opportunity to compete and be the best I could be every single day, then I was truly excited about that."
Wilson will need to learn the system, he'll need to adjust to the terminology, he'll need to get out of the baseball mindset and into one that will prepare him for a physically exhausting Big Ten season. He'll have to also adjust to being one of the more lauded players in Wisconsin history.
The expectations that have been raised over the past 12 months, especially coming off a Rose Bowl berth and landing a highly successful college player, are borderline obsessive. These are all the things he'll need to deal with once he arrives on UW's massive campus.
"I totally understand it," Bielema said. "And I know why people are going to naturally go down that path. One of the things I've tried to do is temper not only the coach's expectations but also fan expectations. I think it's a sign of respect and it was an area that everybody was looking at as a position of weakness, but to me it's going to become a position of strength and there's going to be a great competition.
"We're not going to change what we do. I'm still back there in my office doing the exact same thing I would do if Russell were here or not. We're going to approach fall camp the exact same way. Obviously there is going to be a competition thing that we'll have to work through but we've done that before.
"I wouldn't have gone down this path if it wasn't someone I really respected as a person that I didn't think could handle the situation."
As far as Jon Budmayr, who finished spring camp as the No. 1 quarterback on the roster, is concerned, Bielema made it clear there shouldn't be any cause for concern.
"I haven't had a chance to visit with him since the announcement," Bielema said. "But Paul and I both had a conversation with him while this was going on and I loved his reaction. He said, 'Coach, whatever happens, it's not going to change the way I prepare for this upcoming season.' I think that's how he'll handle it."
Wilson, at least by our count at BadgerBlitz.com is the 85th player to earn a scholarship offer entering the 2011 season. He'll be able to participate in fall camp when it opens August 5th and he'll likely play an instrumental role in the success of the team this season.
Judging by his mindset that should be an expectation.
"You have to prepare, more than anything," Wilson said. "I think the main thing that I've learned playing two sports - playing big-time college football in the ACC and playing profession baseball - is that you have to prepare mentally. I think that I have to truly prepare every single day to step out on that field and be the best that I can be, and that starts with practice.
"Both on the field and off the field and in the weight room, classroom and in the community, those are all the major factors that play into it."
Bielema on the SEC's abolishment of one-year transfer players:
"I'm glad that the SEC is now taking such a leading role in NCAA proposals. That's a very entertaining thing for me to watch and witness. I hope it doesn't change. There are abuses to it because I think some people are using it in a (bad) way. But if the NCAA can kind of maybe monitor in a certain way and not just let it happen if a kid jumps schools, but in a situation like this I think it's a great thing."
The following is the audio from Bielema's meeting with reporters.