Wilson stood barely 5 feet 11 and knowing how few NFL quarterbacks are shorter than 6 feet, Holliday would tease his pupil: “Don’t ever close the door on the Canadian Football League.”
“I was challenging him in a joking way, but I was being real with him, too,” the coach said.
Wilson was still participating in spring football practice, and in the minors, he wasn’t getting the at-bats needed to fully develop as a baseball player. In two shortened seasons the middle infielder couldn’t hit better than .230.
“There were people on our staff who felt he had a chance to someday play at the major league level,” said Bill Schmidt, the Rockies’ vice president of scouting. “It was just going to take some work.”
Soon, following Wilson’s junior season, Wolfpack Coach Tom O’Brien asked Wilson to focus more on football. Wilson wasn’t ready and thought he’d have to leave football behind entirely. He “agonized” over what to do, said Mark Rodgers, Wilson’s baseball agent.
Because Wilson had already completed his undergraduate degree, he was able to transfer without sitting out a year. N.C. State granted Wilson his release, and needing a quarterback, Wisconsin called shortly thereafter.
Wilson learned the Badgers’ playbook in just a couple of weeks and was named captain within a month. Then the Big 10, the Rose Bowl, the Senior Bowl. He called the Rockies and said he’d be participating in the NFL Scouting Combine and hoped to be drafted. Wilson knew if football didn’t work out, he could always pick up a glove and bat again. But he had to try.
“It was definitely difficult to walk away” from baseball, Wilson said. “It was one of those things where I was fighting to figure out. . . . I took a great, great risk, and I’m glad I did it. It was the best decision of my life.”
A seamless transition
Shortly before the NFL draft last spring, Wilson and his new bride, Ashton, scribbled the names of 32 NFL teams and put them in a hat. It was just a fun game. He pulled one out: the Seahawks. “I’m not sure if God or my dad or somebody had something to do with that,” he said.
In April, the Seahawks chose Wilson in the third round, the first quarterback drafted by Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider since they took control of the team in 2010.
“We never doubted the makeup of the kid and his athleticism,” Carroll said. “We just didn’t know if he could translate it to this game and how fast could he do it.”
Wilson entered training camp with no guarantees. Because he wasn’t a first-round pick and because the Seahawks had also signed free agent Matt Flynn, Wilson was a presumed backup, maybe a third-stringer.