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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

February 8, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Seahawks’ Russell Wilson: Former professor on what he’s really like

By Jay Gerlach, Ph.D.

I’ll never forget the first day of the fall semester of 2008 at North Carolina State University. As I walked toward the door to my American Government classroom, a young man approached me.

“Professor, is it OK if I cut out of class a bit early for a press conference at the football complex?” he asked.

I agreed, assuming the student was a member of the N.C. State football team. I didn’t even know his name. I quickly learned his name, not because of his involvement with the Wolfpack football team, but due to his uniqueness as a student, young man, and, eventually, a friend.

The student was Russell Carrington Wilson, and he has been teaching me ever since.

At first, like Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, I found myself asking, “Is this guy too good to be true?” I can assure you that what you see is what you get with Russell.

He rarely missed class. He showed up prepared. He never had an excuse. He never sought, nor was he afforded, a shortcut.

To go above and beyond in the college classroom takes work on a student’s own time and engagement in the classroom. Russell put in that work, and he engaged in class in such a manner that his fellow classmates learned from his insights. We discussed everything from the structure of Congress to social issues. We discussed the 2008 presidential election. Russ never missed a beat.

While he found great success on the football field that fall, the guy never flinched in or out of the classroom. Classmates stared. Everyone wanted to speak with him. He maintained a focus uncommonly seen in a 20-year-old college student.

Midway through that fall semester, Russell approached me with another request.

“Is it OK if I miss class on Friday?” he asked.

When I asked why, Russell responded, “My dad is not well, and I’d like to visit him in Virginia this weekend. I’d like to get a head start and spend a bit more time with him, but if you’d rather me not miss, I’ll be here.”

In my experience, few students ask. Even fewer express such respect for the authority of their professor. Russell made that trip and others like it. Busy as he became during that fall semester, he always made time for his family.

During a difficult personal time for him, he juggled it all. He was as good in the classroom as on the football field, and I imagine he was an even better son.

Seattle, you have something special in Russell Wilson. His recipe is simple: Hard work, respect, loyalty, a responsibility to others, and a seemingly unshakable faith. It’s not flashy, but it’s effective.

I understand Russell and his wife, Ashton, make weekly visits to Seattle Children’s Hospital. That genuine love for others pours out of Russell Wilson. He’s not there out of obligation. He’s there because that’s the type of person he is. There is no pretense. There is no front.

I’ve maintained occasional contact with Russell through the years. Fame doesn’t faze him. He remains the same thankful, hard-working, caring Russell Wilson I met in the hallway at N.C. State University six years ago. He always tells me, “I’m thinking of and praying for you and your family.” I wholeheartedly believe him.

Russell’s dad once told him, “There’s a king in every crowd.” There was a king in my classroom once, and there is a king in your city. Appreciate him and learn from him. His recipe for life is a wonderful one.

Dr. Jay Gerlach is an assistant professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University.  He has worked in higher education since 2004, during graduate school at North Carolina State University and in tenure-track faculty positions at Texas Tech University.  He resides in Asheville, N.C., with his wife and two daughters, and is an avid sports fan.

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