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Avent: Letting Wilson go a bad decision for NC State

Posted January 23
Updated January 24

— Before Russell Wilson was a Seattle Seahawks quarterback, before he attended the University of Wisconsin, before he was a player with the Colorado Rockies organization, and even before he was a signal caller for North Carolina State University, he was a baseball prospect as a top-level shortstop.

“I was in Salem, Va., watching a game on a bad field – the best players in the state of Virginia,” said N.C. State head baseball coach Elliott Avent. “I liked this shortstop, very raw, but I liked him. In fact, I kind of said, ‘That shortstop is pretty good.’ I knew some farmer would come over and say, ‘Hey coach, if you like him in baseball, you should see him throw a football. He's the best quarterback the state of Virginia has ever had.’”

Avent immediately called then-Wolfpack head football coach Chuck Amato.

“I said, ‘Hey Chuck, what do you know about Russell Wilson?' (He said) 'I'll call you right back.’” Avent recalled. “He called back and said everybody likes him, but he's a little short. I'm like, ‘Here we go again.’”

Avent subsequently placed a call to Wolfpack offensive coordinator Mark Trestman – now the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

“I called Trestman and said, ‘Hey Mark, I need you to get Russell Wilson in camp and convince Chuck that he's a little taller than he is,’” Avent recounted. “Next thing you know, they sign Russell, and the rest is history.”

It was at that point that the long journey for the baseball player – and quarterback – began in earnest.

“Chuck and I recruited him for baseball, football. It was always baseball, football,” Avent said. “Now, in the process, Chuck leaves, and in comes Tom O'Brien. I had to go to Tom O'Brien and say, ‘This is baseball, football.’”

For three years, Wilson made the delicate balance of school, baseball and football work.

“He would actually get up at 5 a.m. to go to the early workouts for football so he could be out here in the afternoon,” Avent said of Wilson’s baseball dedication.

It got more complicated the summer before his third year, when Wilson was drafted by the Rockies. He played minor league baseball that summer, reported to fall football camp on time and produced a stellar campaign under center.

He wanted to continue playing minor league baseball the summer of 2011. O'Brien wanted Wilson to spend more time with football. The coach’s question: Do I take Wilson for one year or Mike Glennon for two?

"He’s not coming back. He’ll be a baseball player,” O’Brien said at the time. “We have to move forward with Glennon. We’ve planned for this day. I can’t sit here and say we’re going to wait for Russell to come back. We have to move forward. Mike is going to be the quarterback. That’s how we are going.”

That led to the transfer to Wisconsin where Wilson continued to flourish in one season as a Badger.

“It was something I wasn't very happy about,” Avent recounted. “I think it was one of the bad decisions in college sports – and not on Russell's part. I'm just saying we should have found a way to keep Russell Wilson here.”

59 Comments

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  • Objective Scientist Jan 25, 1:31 p.m.

    Yes sir we sure had some great games with Mike. Reminds me of Monte Kiffin sticking with Tol... View More

    — Posted by arcansawtuthpik

    "When in battle do not give up your best warrior. TOB forgot that." Not an NCSU fan, but as I recall... is not TOB a former US Marine? I know some retired Marines... with active duty even decades ago. Have any of them "forgot" about throwing anything and everything you have at your enemy... to defeat that enemy and to survive the battle? Not one of them! Yea... I know, I'm not naive. We use "military/battle talk, analogies, phrases" all the time in sports, politics, and who knows what else. But com'on! We're talking here about a college sport. There has to be some point beyond which we are not willing to go to "win" a game! That said... TOB had a decision to make... a very difficult decision! I have no doubt he WANTED Wilson as his QB for another year. He wanted his best "weapon" on the field. From what I know of the situation he made what he - TOB - thought, as HEAD COACH, was best LONG-TERM for the program.

  • arcansawtuthpik Jan 25, 1:08 p.m.

    Yes sir we sure had some great games with Mike. Reminds me of Monte Kiffin sticking with Tol Avery. It boils down to the best chance for the Wolfpack to win. The rest is mere opinion. I liked TOB, but letting Wilson go was a mistake of the highest caliber. When in battle you do not give up your best warrior. TOB forgot that. Mike is an ok QB, but will never achieve the success that you are seeing Wilson have.

  • BB5 Jan 25, 12:38 p.m.

    I'm a "Carolina guy", but I always enjoyed watching Russell Wilson play... great athlete. From... View More

    — Posted by Objective Scientist

    +1...appreciating the student-athlete.

  • Objective Scientist Jan 25, 10:27 a.m.

    All QBs can be "better" with regard to their play calling on Monday mornings... likewise with coaches and the decisions they made on Sat or Sun. It is "easy" to make a better call after having seen the tape of the game. That said... O'Brian had to make a decision at that time. NCSU folks who loved Wilson wanted to get to watch him another year... understandable. I'm a Carolina guy and I liked watching him play. Having been a coach myself earlier in my life... I can empathize with O'Brian. I followed the story closely as it developed.... and we all now have the "hindsight" to better judge the call O'Brian made. Then... and now.... I believe he made the "right call" given the circumstances he faced, and the hand he had been dealt by Wilson and the circumstances. It was the right call then... and, now having a retrospective perspective, it remains the right call by O'Brian.

  • Objective Scientist Jan 25, 10:14 a.m.

    I'm a "Carolina guy", but I always enjoyed watching Russell Wilson play... great athlete. From information in the media it also appears that he was a very solid student in the classroom. I will always appreciate the STUDENT-ATHLETE more than the mere ATHLETE.

  • NCSUclassof90 Jan 25, 9:15 a.m.

    TOB did the right thing under the circumstances. RW did the right thing under the circumstances. Neither of them have hard feelings. State fans have no hard feelings. RW loves us. We love him. And to all you tarholes who like to poke this particular fire with your filthy sticks, where are your NFL QBs?

  • robbins Jan 25, 8:20 a.m.

    Letting him go may not have been good for NC State, but this State fan realizes that a year with a powerhouse like Wisconsin certainly helped him be ready for the NFL. I'll always be a Russell Wilson fan.

  • BB5 Jan 24, 11:46 p.m.

    If it was such a bad idea, Coach, why wasn't RW an every game player for you? And didn't he have like the 10th highest BA on the team the year he got drafted?

  • sweet D Jan 24, 4:48 p.m.

    gotta love Avent.....great guy in person, also....Avents' Army, baby!!

  • Honesty first Jan 24, 4:28 p.m.

    Throw OBrien under the bus coach. Easy to say this now since he is gone.

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