Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema stayed in the background on Monday when Russell Wilson announced he was transferring to the Badgers. Bielema said he wanted the day to belong to Wilson. On Tuesday, the Badgers coach was ready to talk to reporters about recruiting the former NC State quarterback, which he called the "most unique situation ever."
Just getting time to talk to Wilson proved difficult. Because he was playing minor-league baseball with the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists, Wilson had two days off in May and early June, Bielema said. He used one to visit Auburn and the other to come to Wisconsin.
Bielema said Wisconsin appealed to the NCAA for a special waiver to go meet with Wilson's mother, but that was rejected. Neither he nor his coaches were allowed to watch Wilson play baseball. One thing they did for homework was send offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to Wilson's high school for a day to learn as much about the player as possible. Bielema only really knew about Wilson from what he saw on TV during Thursday night games, and he could only call him once a week under NCAA rules.
But from Wilson's visit to Madison and Bielema's calls to the NC State staff, a positive picture emerged. Wilson has already graduated and has a fiancee, so Bielema said he's a more mature guy whose biggest challenge might be relating to everyone else on the team.
"He is definitely a task-oriented individual," Bielema said. "He’s very guarded, very reserved. He’s opened up more and more as we’ve moved forward. He likes to have a plan in front of him, laid out in a way he knows he can follow. ... Everything I’ve learned about him, I think it’s going to be a nice fit when he’s here full time.”
Bielema never came out and promised Wilson the starting quarterback job.
"But obviously I told him as a guy with one year of eligibility, I’m not bringing you in with the intention of seeing how you sit on the bench," Bielema said. "... I wouldn’t have gone down this path if it wasn’t someone I really respected as a person that I thought could handle this situation.
“He is a gifted athlete. ... Our offense is a little bit different now, you’ve got the play-action and the run-action that’s going on, in combination with his skills. It’s pretty special.”
Wilson is planning on reporting in a few days and will begin taking classes at Wisconsin on July 11. Last year at NC State, he didn't report back from baseball until Aug. 1, and Bielema said Wilson didn't feel as prepared as he needed to be for the start of the season.
Jon Budmayr had won the starting quarterback job in the spring and now in all likelihood will be pushed down the depth chart. Bielema said as of Tuesday afternoon he hadn't had a chance to talk to Budmayr in his rush to get the Wilson scholarship papers submitted. But he and Chryst had talked with Budmayr this summer about the situation.
"And I loved Jon’s reaction," Bielema said. "He goes, ‘Coach, whatever happens, it’s not going to change the way I prepare for this upcoming season.’”
Bielema said other schools sold Wilson on the chance to compete for the Heisman and win a national championship, and they brought up the fact that Wisconsin is known as a running school. Bielema took a different approach.
“We’re an offense-oriented school," he said. "I get it, we have good running backs. But there have not been a lot of people in college football, especially over the last couple of years, who have been as balanced as we are. That’s the part that we ended up selling to him -- you’ve got a chance to come in here and you’re not going to have to do it on your own.”