HARRIS: Russell Wilson had special presence long before reaching Super Bowl

Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson holds up the George Halas Trophy after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)Seattle Seahawks‘ Russell Wilson holds up the George Halas Trophy after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In a previous lifetime as sports editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, one of the more enjoyable duties was serving as master of ceremonies at the end-of-the-school-year banquet honoring the area’s best high school athletes.

The 2007 choice as the paper’s high school athlete of the year?

Russell Wilson, a multi-sport star at Collegiate School who was headed to North Carolina State to play football even though many figured his future was in professional baseball.

Before the event started, Wilson sought me out.

North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson (16) celebrates with his team following an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009. North Carolina State won 28-27. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson (16) celebrates with his team following ... more >

“Mr. Harris,” he said, “I’d like to give a short speech.”

It normally wasn’t done. That’s a tough spot for a high school student. But something made me say “sure” and I’m sure glad I did.

A teammate’s father had died in a plane crash not long before the banquet. Wilson spoke for 10 minutes about what the man, a local oncologist named Chris Desch, meant to him, meant to Desch’s family and meant to the team. His talk moved the entire room.

Only 18, he had more charisma than anyone in the banquet hall and that included a number of high-profile college football coaches.

Wilson, as everyone knows, is now the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and he’s preparing to lead his team in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. He’ll become just the sixth quarterback to start a Super Bowl in his first or second season.

He’s become the leading light of a talented group of young quarterbacks that includes Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, the Redskins’ own Robert Griffin III and several others. He wasn’t drafted until the third round and he had to beat out a high-priced free agent in Matt Flynn to win the job with the Seahawks.

If you’d said Wilson would get to a Super Bowl before some of his young quarterbacking colleagues, you might have drawn a sneer. Luck was the top pick in the draft. The Redskins gave up a trio of first-round picks to move into position to draft RG3 with the No. 2 pick. Three other quarterbacks were taken before Seattle took Wilson (Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler).

Yet those who knew Wilson as he wandered the halls at Collegiate aren’t the least bit surprised.

“It doesn’t seem all that strange. It all seems part of the plan,” said Weldon Bradshaw, an English teacher at Collegiate. “He just has this drive to be the best. Even lately, when he hasn’t had some of his greatest games, all they’ve done is win.”

To say Wilson isn’t physically gifted is crazy talk. Clearly he is gifted. He managed to start at N.C. State and later Wisconsin, taking the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Though he never reached the majors, he played pro baseball for two seasons in the Colorado Rockies system before deciding to make football his life’s work. Sure, he’s short, listed at 5-feet-11. But Wilson is an athletic marvel.

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