Russell Wilson: The Quarterback That Connects
Drafted by Major League Baseball. Released by his college football team. Russell Wilson’s unconventional journey to the NFL was just the start. Now he’s (always) focused on redefining the modern QB.
Muscle That Moves
After 45 minutes, we pull up to a small, Spartan collection of Marine Corps buildings, one of which will serve as an impromptu studio for Wilson’s photo shoot. At the moment, it’s full of Marines and the Men’s Fitness crew, and as Wilson approaches with the calm, confident gait of an athlete, the chatter briefly subsides. That is, until he greets everyone in the group— Marines, photographers, stylists—with a smile and a handshake, introducing himself by name. Some of them are taken by surprise, others are eager to talk football. After he’s made his rounds and the photographers and Marines have returned to their work, the rest of us dive into the catering.
“Anybody have a fork?” Wilson asks, cradling a cupful of fruit in his massive hands. As I hand him one, I ask what he’s doing in terms of his diet. It’s one of the things he’s really trying to focus on, he says. “I’ve been trying to cut out carbs late at night. I’m a big pasta guy, but I’ve cut it out to stay fast and lean.”
During the off-season, Wilson has the green light from Seattle Seahawks director of player health and performance, Sam Ramsden, to eat as he pleases. During the season, Ramsden focuses on Wilson’s getting ample protein (around 30 grams every four hours), and calories (around 4,000 per day). Most of his meals are based around a list of “action foods”(check them out on page 130)—nutrient-dense options that address shortcomings in his macro- and micronutrient profile. He’s started carrying a bit more body fat (10%, up from 8.5% a year ago) to help absorb the bumps and bruises that accumulate over a long season of collisions.
The photographer snaps a few shots before asking him to take off his shirt. If he’s carrying any extra body fat, you can’t see it. With a barrel chest, massive arms, tree-trunk legs, and those catcher’s-mitt hands, the quarterback looks like he was constructed by a committee of football coaches. “I try to do something physical every day,” he says. “I don’t go heavy every day, though. I’ll lift four days a week, and then on the off-days I’ll be [in the Seahawks training facility] doing core stuff, shoulder stability stuff, or just stretching.”
Wilson works with Seattle Seahawks director of strength and conditioning Chris Carlisle to make sure it’s time well spent. “Our philosophy here is that we are a movement- based program,” Carlisle says. “If you look at the game of football, when the ball is snapped, there is one commonality between all 22 players, and that is movement. So almost everything we do is based on movement.” Their training includes everything from explosive speed to learning the correct way to fall when you’re being tackled. They also work on strength with presses and squats, but not as much as you’d think. “Eighty percent of our program is based on movement—speed, agility, power, and endurance,” Carlisle says. “Twenty percent is based on strength. We get to a point where [the athlete] can be strong enough to play at the highest level and still improve his athleticism."
Wilson is ready to put that training to the test on the Marine obstacle course on this scorching day, but a football has suddenly materialized in his hands, and the man’s got to do what comes naturally. “Georgia, go long!” Wilson says, cocking his arm and firing a bullet over the open field that somehow lands as gently as a bird into the waiting hands of a photo assistant.
A franchise quarterback is hard to come by, which is why so many folks on set gasp when he throws himself at the log with such vigor. He’ll do the same with almost all of the other obstacles, save for a high rope climb. That one presents too much risk, even for Wilson. By the end of the day he knows just about everyone by his or her first name, and he’s soaked with sweat, still standing under the blistering Virginia sun.
After the last photo has been snapped, the Marines tentatively hand Wilson a folder full of photographs and footballs they’re hoping he’ll sign—some even have personalized message requests slapped on with a sticky note. He’s cutting it close for a dinner he’s supposed to attend on behalf of one of his sponsors, but each message is dutifully spelled out with a real signature, not a sloppy loop that passes for a John Hancock.
As the Men’s Fitness crew prepares to leave, Wilson and Pickett give us advice on how to best avoid the D.C. traffic. Once Wilson confirms that his driver is en route, he gives us the thumbs-up, and we roll out.
Suddenly, he appears alongside our car, racing to catch the moving vehicle. “Did he leave his watch in here?” somebody asks as we crane our necks around, looking for what he may have misplaced.
As the driver’s window comes down, Wilson extends his hand. “Thank you for today,” he says to the driver with a handshake, and then to me, and then to every person in our car, leaning into the cabin to make sure he has gotten everyone.
As we pull away, I notice he’s connecting with every car behind us.