After trade to Broncos, Russell Wilson's career comes full circle

March 8th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Russell Wilson was so enthusiastic and diligent about baseball that he once met with a Rockies club official to work on double-play pivots -- in a parking building in Charlotte, N.C. Back then, the Rockies believed Wilson’s athletic ability and work ethic would get him to Denver someday.

Well, it did.


A million -- maybe literally that many -- little quips like that flew around the internet when word broke that, according to multiple reports and sources, Wilson -- who left baseball for football, and won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks -- is headed to the Denver Broncos in an agreed-in-principle trade.

The story of how Wilson ended up one of the best quarterbacks in pro football is worth retelling. And the Rockies, who drafted him in 2010 and played him at Short-Season Tri-City and Class A Asheville, don’t even mind helping tell it.

And they are happy for him. When asked about Wilson, assistant general manager Danny Montgomery -- who was a key voice in the Rockies’ decision to select Wilson as a second baseman -- offered a direct greeting:

“Russ, I want to welcome you and your family back to the Mile High City. This is exactly what this fan base deserved and very happy for what’s to come. Go Broncos.”

So how did Wilson not become the Rockies’ second baseman of the future?

Wilson was a football/baseball player at North Carolina State at the time the Rockies drafted him after his junior year. Although Wilson showed football talent, scouts questioned his size. Wilson is listed at 5-foot-11, and no matter how many sub-6-foot-4 quarterbacks succeed, knocking a shorter man down is a time-honored pro tradition.

“At the time we were told that probably if he wanted to continue to play football, he was going to have to go to Canada,” said Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt, who was running the team’s Drafts.

The Rockies have always gravitated to football quarterbacks. Before Schmidt, the club selected Todd Helton, who had played at the University of Tennessee, and Matt Holliday, considered by some the nation’s best quarterback when coming out of Stillwater (Okla.) High School. Michael Vick and Jeff Brohm were future NFLers that the Rockies selected.

In fact, the Rockies’ first pick in the Draft that brought them Wilson was outfielder Kyle Parker, who played against Wilson as Clemson’s starting quarterback. Parker would appear with the Rockies in 2014 and '15.

“Actually, at the time we were told that Kyle Parker was a better football prospect,” Schmidt said.

Wilson played his junior year of football eligibility at NC State in 2010, and the Rockies selected him the next summer.

Wilson’s beloved father died the day after the Rockies selected him. Jay Matthews, now national scouting crosschecker for the Rockies, visited Wilson to pay respects. Just wanting to escape grief, Wilson suggested they meet at a batting cage to take some swings at 10 p.m. It was Matthews who met Wilson for the parking garage session before Wilson flew to Denver to sign his bonus agreement.

Wilson played at Short-Season Tri-City in 2010 and Class A Asheville in 2011, batting .229 in 93 combined games -- not eye-popping numbers, but he was playing two sports and was only learning baseball.

Fred Ocasio, the Rockies’ current Arizona Complex League manager, managed the Tri-City squad when Wilson arrived. Tom Holliday, Matt’s father, at the time pitching coach at NC State, called Ocasio to inform him he was receiving an exceptional athlete who was a joy to coach.

Wilson didn’t disappoint.

They saw bat speed, which the Rockies believed would serve him well once he gained experience. They saw a guy who did extra early work, and who would decline to toss a football around because he was focusing on the real-time task.

“He was always next to us -- so in the dugout, you have the coaches in one corner, then the players,” Ocasio said. “Russell was always right there [with coaches] asking questions, ‘In this situation, what do you think?’ ‘How did I look over there defensively?’”

But behind the scenes, the move that changed Wilson’s trajectory was happening at NC State.

Wilson had graduated college but still had a year of football eligibility in 2011. However, then-NC State head football coach Tom O’Brien had another future NFL quarterback, Mike Glennon, on his roster and decided to move away from Wilson.

Still, Wilson believed he had some football left in him. Under NCAA rules, because Wilson had earned his degree, he was free to transfer without sitting out a year. Wisconsin and Auburn pursued him, and he picked Wisconsin because it had a pro-style offense and he would be protected by NFL prototype linemen.

That was the end of baseball for Wilson, who led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl and solidified his football future.

Baseball has seen Wilson’s value as an inspirational figure. The Rangers selected him in the Rule 5 Draft a few years back, dressed him in Spring Training games and had him speak to the club about his successes. The Yankees traded for him, and his last baseball action was a pinch-hit appearance in a 2018 Spring Training game.

But what if he had stayed on the path with the Rockies?

“He was a good athlete and he was at-bats away,” Schmidt said. “I thought he had a chance, but he needed 1,500 at-bats to find out.”

Now in Denver, Wilson will be measured by yards and touchdowns -- and, fans hope, Super Bowl rings.