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Prayer led QB Russell Wilson to Wisconsin

by: DAVID STLUKA Former North Carolina State two-sport athlete Russell Wilson tried pro baseball, then transferred to Wisconsin for a final season of college quarterback. He has led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl game Jan. 2 against Oregon.

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The road to Madison, Wis., was long and winding for Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson, with several detours.

The 5-11, 210-pound senior began his college career at North Carolina State. He played football and baseball for the Wolfpack. After redshirting in both sports in 2007, Wilson began his career as a second baseman and quarterback.

'I've loved them both my whole life,' Wilson says, of the sports.

Over the next three years, Wilson completed 682 of 1,180 passes for 8,545 yards, 76 touchdowns and 26 interceptions while rushing for 1,089 yards and 17 TDs. On the baseball field, he hit .282 with five home runs and 30 RBIs.

In 2010, Wilson hit .306 with three homers and was drafted in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies. Playing in low Class A that year, Wilson batted .230 with two homers. Things did not get much better for him the next season in A ball, when he hit .228 with three HRs. After 61 games, Wilson left baseball to return to college football.

'It's one of those things where the Lord works in mysterious ways,' Wilson says. 'I didn't really know what was the best situation for me, and I just kept praying about it.'

Because he had graduated from North Carolina State, Wilson was eligible to play in 2011 for whatever team he chose. The question was which school he should go to. Wilson looked seriously at Wisconsin and Auburn.

'It came down to Auburn and the University of Wisconsin,' Wilson says. 'After my visits, I just kept praying about it, and I trusted in the Lord to lead me in the right direction.'

Wilson liked the Wisconsin coaching staff and the players he met, and he saw how the Badgers' pro-style offense could improve his stock as an NFL quarterback. He also sensed that the Badgers, who had played in the 2010 Rose Bowl, were destined for greatness.

'Just the experience I got when I came up here, I knew that there was something out there that we could achieve in terms of playing great football every day and me improving in general,' he says.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was more than happy to welcome a quarterback of Wilson's pedigree.

'Russell had a lot of experience,' Bielema says. 'He was a guy who had great composure, a guy who had been at an N.C. State program but also had been part of a professional locker room in professional baseball."

The first day Wilson was in Madison last summer, before he had ever taken a snap in a Wisconsin uniform, he spoke at a team meeting.

'Guys,' he said, 'the reason I came here is that I wanted to be a part of something special.'

Wilson did his part in making the Badgers a special team. This season, he has completed 206 of 284 passes (72.5 percent) for 31 TDs, with three interceptions. He also has carried the ball for 320 yards and five TDs.

Wilson says the reasons for his surgical accuracy are his experience and the Badgers' surrounding tools.

'Experience helps,' he says. 'I know what defenses are trying to do all the time from the film study. The offensive line helps, too. When you have an offensive line that's averaging 6-5, 320, 330 pounds, guys who can truly pass-block and run-block extremely well, that helps. And we have talented guys in the skill positions. That always helps. They make me look good, I make them look good sometimes.'

Wilson's passing ability is enhanced because he has enough speed to keep a play alive if his protection breaks down.

'That's definitely a plus in my game,' he says. 'I love to stand in the pocket, I love to make all the throws. I believe that I can make every single throw in the book.

'But the fact that I can move outside the pocket and be extremely, extremely effective gives me an added advantage and our team an added advantage in terms of making plays happen when things don't look so good.'

When Wisconsin faces Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Monday, Wilson says that he will have his work cut out for him against the Ducks' defense. The key for him and the Badgers, he says, will be focusing on taking one play at a time.

'They're extremely talented,' he says, of the Ducks. 'They don't get to the Rose Bowl without a lot of talent. We've just got to stay focused on what we're trying to do and execute, and just enjoy the game, but have that edge and play with great execution.'

The path to playing quarterback for Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl may have been long, but for Wilson, it was worth the journey.

'I love what I'm doing right now, and I see myself doing that in the future,' he says. 'I just want to keep growing as a quarterback and keep growing in my love of the game.'