BEAU ALLEN was a rising sophomore at Wisconsin when Russell Wilson arrived.
The circumstances were unusual. Wilson, a football and baseball star at North Carolina State, had gotten his degree the previous spring, then had quarterbacked the Wolfpack in 2010 while attending grad school.
When the season ended, Wilson told NC State coach Tom O'Brien he intended to go to spring training with the Colorado Rockies (who had drafted him in the fourth round the year before) instead of reporting for spring football. O'Brien, with QB Mike Glennon waiting in the wings, told Wilson if he couldn't commit fully, he would have to play his final year of football somewhere else.
As Eagles rookie nose tackle Allen remembers it, the Badgers had lost Scott Tolzien, now with the Packers, to graduation, and had lost two other QBs to injury. After watching some film clips of Wilson tearing up the ACC, they were not at all leery of having a complete stranger walk in and become the starting quarterback.
"We were all excited," Allen said. "It was kind of weird initially . . . [But] just the way that he handled it, he was real mature about everything. Didn't come in like he owned the place, just really humble, which I think made it all a lot easier. He was a real easy guy to have as a teammate. We all respected the way he handled himself, on and off the field. I don't think anyone who was on that team is really surprised by the success he's had."
On Sunday, Wilson will take the field against Allen and the Eagles as the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, but in 2011 he was a minor league second baseman looking for a place to play NCAA football.
"I wanted to prove to people that I could play behind a huge offensive line, my height wasn't a factor," Wilson, who is 5-11, said yesterday on a conference call. "It was a great experience . . . I remember I called a players-only meeting, and I talked to the guys about how I was coming in not just to be given the starting job, but I wanted to compete and I wanted our football team to win . . . I learned the whole playbook in 21 days. It kind of tested me in terms of how quickly I could learn and how professional I could be. I played professional baseball, so I knew how to go into a locker room and just be myself, not be any different . . . have my shirt tucked in and go to work. That's just the way I always am - sit up in the front of the class and ask questions."
Wilson led the Badgers to an 11-3 season and the Rose Bowl, where they lost to Chip Kelly and Oregon, 45-38. Glennon led the Wolfpack to an 8-5 season that included a victory in the Belk Bowl, over Louisville.
Eagles safety Earl Wolff, formerly of NC State, said Wilson's departure was a crisis for the Wolfpack; whatever the reason, the program declined and O'Brien was dismissed after the 2012 season. O'Brien, now a Virginia assistant, has noted that Glennon played well for NC State and is now an NFL QB as well, with Tampa Bay. O'Brien has said if he had it all to do over again, he might play Wilson as a true freshman in 2007, instead of redshirting him, which would have completed Wilson's eligibility in 2010 and avoided the messy divorce.
"As players, it hurt us. And it hurt him," Wolff said of Wilson. "He was pretty depressed, pretty upset, pretty disappointed about what happened."
Wolff said he didn't worry about Wilson's future, never doubted he would be an NFL star.
"If you knew Russell personally, you knew it was going to happen eventually," Wolff said. "I remember when Russell got drafted, I said, 'They took Russell in the third round? Whoever took him got a steal' . . . I feel like everything he's done, he deserves. He's a tremendously hard-working guy.
"The type of person he is, he can adapt to any environment. He's a natural leader. He can't help it; that's what he does, is lead."
Most Eagles fans know the story by now of how the Andy Reid Birds liked Wilson in the 2012 draft, though they also liked Nick Foles, the quarterback they ended up taking in the third round, 88th overall, 13 spots after Seattle nabbed Wilson. Former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah, now an NFL.com analyst, said in a podcast last year that Wilson kept texting him during the draft, "If the Eagles draft me, I will lead the Eagles to championships." They seem to have banked a little too heavily on Wilson's height scaring off other interested teams. And, of course, they also liked Foles as a fallback.
"That was one of the top teams that was really, really talking to me," Wilson recalled yesterday. "I definitely thought that was a possibility . . . I had a really good relationship with [Jeremiah] . . . I'm grateful to be a Seattle Seahawk, obviously. It's a tremendous honor to be the starting quarterback for this team and this franchise."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told a conference call last night that the Eagles called right after Seattle took Wilson, to say they'd been interested. Carroll said that internally, the Seahawks weren't really thinking about the Eagles, they were debating whether they could wait until the third round or needed to pull the trigger in the second.
"[General manager] John Schneider did a great job of evaluating where we'd have to go to get him," Carroll said. "We were sweating it out, because we really wanted him, believed he would be a big factor in our team if we could get him."
Kelly also liked Wilson, who stopped by the Oregon football offices in the summer of 2010, when his Class A short-season Tri-City Dust Devils were in Eugene for a four-game series.
"I got to spend the day with him, basically . . . He kind of just showed me around the University of Oregon, showed me the whole facility, what they do there, the academics area," Wilson said.
"You could tell right away - I knew right then, whether he decided he was going to be a football player or a baseball player, he was going to be successful in everything he did," Kelly said yesterday. "There was a maturity about him and there was an air about him that you knew this guy was going to be a successful guy."