Avent: Letting Wilson go a bad decision for NC State
Posted January 23
Updated January 24
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.”