Published: Thursday, June 25, 2015
DeKalb Daily Chronicle
By JESSE SEVERSON
DeKALB – Russell Wilson was much kinder to Northern Illinois this time around.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game and he’s here right now,” said a smiling Jackson Johnson, 13, of DeKalb, during lunch break.
The Seattle Seahawks star quarterback led the camp, which lasted around five hours, with help from a group that consisted of former and current Northern Illinois football players.
“I shook his hand and I think his hand ate mine,” Huskies linebacker Sean Folliard laughed. “He’s an impressive human being. He’s awesome to meet and seems like a really great guy [who] cares about the kids and is a genuine person.”
In his senior year at Wisconsin in 2011, Wilson threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns to lead the No. 7 Badgers over the Huskies, 49-7, at Soldier Field. Chandler Harnish, who helped out with the camp on Saturday, was the quarterback for the Huskies that day.
Despite being thought of as undersized at 5-foot-11, Wilson has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL – leading the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, including a blowout victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“He’s for the little guy – literally. People talk about his height and not being an NFL quarterback,” said Northern Illinois Athletic Director Sean Frazier, who said there were between 450-500 campers present. “He wanted (the camp) to be in Chicagoland, he wanted to make sure he had a good audience, he wanted to give back to the kids. All that fit. I said, ‘Why not DeKalb? Why not NIU if you want to do that, Russell?’ It was a no-brainer.”
Frazier was the deputy director of athletics in 2011 when Wilson played his one season with the Badgers. For Wilson, his connection with Frazier from their time together at Wisconsin,and the desire to come to the Chicago area were driving factors in his decision to bring the camp to DeKalb.
“I know NIU has a tremendous facility, first of all,” Wilson said. “Sean Frazier is an unbelievable man and has done a great job at Wisconsin and here. I have a lot of respect for this program.”
The Russell Wilson Passing Academy makes seven stops during the NFL offseason, including DeKalb. Northern Illinois associate athletic director Ryan Sedevie, who spent 18 years at Wisconsin, said bringing the camp to Huskie Stadium was a yearlong process – and included sending more than 100 youth players from the area up to the camp in Madison, Wisconsin, last summer.
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey was all smiles about having Wilson running around Huskie Stadium.
“What a shot in the arm for the community and NIU,” Carey said. “To get a two-time Super Bowl quarterback and obviously a great college quarterback and have him on the campus for the kids – you see the kids’ eyes, they’re all wide-eyed. I’m super excited. Sean has a great relationship with him, so he got it done. I had no doubts when they started talking about it, that he was going to get it done.”
The day, which featured photos and autographs from Wilson for the young players along with plenty of football drills, left many of them with wide smiles.
“When he told us, ‘Good job,’ it’s like, ‘Yo, that’s Russell Wilson. That’s awesome,’ “ DeKalb resident Jeremiah Wright, 16, said.
Danny Russell, 15, also of DeKalb, said he was nervous about being around one of the top quarterbacks in the game but when he met him, he was amazed that Wilson seemed like “just a regular guy.”
According to Carey, the young players weren’t the only ones eager to meet Wilson.
“As wide-eyed as the kids are, our players are, too,” Carey laughed. “This is a guy where our guys want to be.”
In Wilson’s only regular-season game at Soldier Field as a member of the Seahawks, he threw for 293 yards and had a game-winning touchdown pass to Sidney Rice in overtime to give Seattle a 23-17 win in 2013. When asked if the camp was a chance to convert some young Bears fans into being young Seahawks fans, Wilson smiled as wide as many of the young players on Saturday.
“I won’t say it out loud,” Wilson said, “but maybe that’s the case.”
However, for the 15-year-old Russell, not even being around the Super Bowl champion could sway his alliance.
“I think he’s a good player,” he said. “But I still got to stick with the Bears even though they’re not winning.”