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September 2, 2011MADISON - Russell Wilson said he was a little emotional when he sprinted through the Camp Randall tunnel for the first time as a member of the Wisconsin football team.
He certainly didn't let it affect him once he got on the field, though.
"As much as I've heard the hype and seen it in practice, he still shocked me," UW junior tailback Montee Ball said in regards to Wilson following UW's 51-17 win. "His runs and his throws. His ability to manage the game is incredible. Like I said earlier, he's a great leader for this team and a great quarterback for this team.
"It's really great that we have him."
From the time Wilson signed all the paperwork that officially made him a Badger he's been on the receiving end of a hype machine that has been unbearably high at certain times. National championship this, conference title that, Heisman contender here and All-American there, it's all anybody wants to talk about in regards to Badger football.
To his credit Wilson has handled every single step of the process with flying colors. He's been just as impressive as he was Thursday night - - 10-of-13 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns plus another 62 yards rushing and a third touchdown - - from the very get go.
He's clearly a special player that has kicked off what looks to be another season chock full of potential.
"I have been in this profession for a while and you can see guys that naturally got a little bit of something to them," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's got some moxie, some savvy, some God-given ability that makes him love every single minute of the day. Russell is a guy that has been very impressive. You've heard me say it a million times but I think people will see that. For instance, when NFL scouts come in and when visitors are at practice, they are just amazed at the way he works.
"And today you saw why."
Not only did Wilson make all the right decisions during Thursday's easy win, he also incorporated several players involved in that offensive juggernaut in the process. He spread the ball around to six different receivers, ran the ball with authority and proved he's every bit capable of living up to the lofty hype surrounding him.
He proved he can command a huddle and that he is every bit worthy of the captain status he earned even though he'd only really been around the team for a month of fall camp.
He's that prototypical Wisconsin guy Bielema and his staff always look for.
"It's easy for him," Bielema said. "I think we've got a room full of them and he can kind of blend in to that environment. Russell is a great kid and a great player, but we've got a lot of those guys in that room. I think that's why it's easy for him to come in and do it. He can walk in and kind of just act like we act.
"I think that's what's always impressed me."
His play on the field was also pretty impressive.
Not one time did Wilson seem out of control - - even though he did miss a couple of throws early in the game that could have probably went for touchdowns - - and never once did he make even a questionable decision.
His lone deep pass went for a 39-yard gain to senior Nick Toon and it was spot on. He didn't force anything out of the ordinary and he ran Paul Chryst's offense essentially to a tee.
He also showcased his athleticism, especially during a second and 10 play late in the first half. When Wilson decided he didn't have any options to throw to down field he pulled the ball in and took off. He initially broke through an enormous whole on the left side of the line before breaking it outside.
Once he neared the sideline the senior signal caller kicked it into high gear and motored easily into the end zone for a 46-yard score. It was the single most exciting play in a game loaded with highlights simply because it proved Wilson is capable of doing things quarterbacks of Badger past - - other than Brooks Bollinger - - haven't even dreamed of.
"I was watching from the sidelines so I got a real good view of it," UW sophomore tailback James White said. "He just made one guy miss and just took it to the sideline. He's faster than I thought. He's a very explosive player."
The best part of that Wilson touchdown run, other than the fact it gave UW an insurmountable 34-3 lead, was the fact that Wilson immediately went and recognized Nick Toon and acknowledged his very solid blocking down field. If it weren't for Toon's continued effort on that play and for his eventual seal at the two-yard line, Wilson probably doesn't score.
That wasn't lost on the veteran, albeit first year Badger.
"That was awesome," Wilson said. "His ability to make catches and also block is a tremendous asset for a wide receiver."
Overall, even if Wilson had an ability to script his debut, it might not have turned out quite like it did Thursday night. He was special in front of the 77,000 fans in attendance.
There's no disguising that.
"I think it was definitely a positive game for our football team," Wilson said. "Getting out there for the first time, I'm truly blessed to be here. I'm truly blessed to be a Badger and it was an exciting game."