Russell Wilson Passing Academy brings former Wisconsin quarterback back to Madison

Jonathan Daniel

Russell Wilson returned to Madison this weekend, bringing along the five-city tour of his instructional camp. There, he spent time working with kids on the fundamentals of passing with the help of some former teammates, including Montee Ball, Kevin Zeitler and one Barry Alvarez.

MADISON -- Hundreds of kids lined up for football drills inside the Dave McClain Athletic Facility, all broken up into different drill stations. Russell Wilson works with one group and stands on the 15-yard line, giving instructions but having fun with the youngsters running slants, outs and fade routes, all for a greater goal to help them succeed in football and in life. Reaching over 1,400 children in a two-and-a-half-week period, Wilson hopes to improve both their skills on and off the field with his Russell Wilson Passing Academy.

"The whole idea of the RWPA is just to reach as many kids as we can," Wilson said, this being the third stop in the camp's five-city tour. "It's a tremendous honor, to be honest with you. To be able to go to Richmond (Va.), where I grew up, to go to NC State, where I first played, then to come here, the fans here are so amazing. The love here is awesome in Madison, to come back here has really been terrific.

The stop in Madison was the third in the camp's five-city tour. Wilson partnered with American Family Insurance to provide scholarships to inner-city and underprivileged youth to attend these camps. He hopes all of the camp's participants, kids and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 17, learn to develop skills necessary for success.

"I think that's the thing I try to focus on -- teaching them the fundamentals, teaching them the character aspect of things and how to live, and how to act, and how to be disciplined," he said. "That's the biggest thing, as a pro athlete, is being disciplined, and being disciplined as a college student, as a high school student, as a middle school student. I think that's what helps you be successful in life a lot of times, so I'm trying to teach that to those kids."

"I think that's the thing I try to focus on -- teaching them the fundamentals, teaching them the character aspect of things and how to live, and how to act, and how to be disciplined."

Knowing your dream and how to pursue it is another key. Per the academy's official website, American Family Insurance developed the AMFAM "Express Yourself Dream Studio" to allow campers to put their goals and dreams on paper and express them in interactive stations.

"What I'm really trying to focus on is, what's your dream?" Wilson said. "What's your sports dream, and what's your life dream? If you can focus on those things and have a plan for those things like how you're gonna get there, then you give yourself a really good shot, and that's all you need."

The blueprint for these camps, which end out west with stops in Spokane, Was., and Seattle in July, came to fruition back years ago in his hometown of Richmond, Va., with camps of about 100 to 125 kids.

"I started doing it my junior year in high school," Wilson said. "As soon as I got to the pros, that's the first thing I said I wanted to do."

To help with the two-day camp in Madison, Wilson enlisted the help of Badger alums Montee Ball, Bradie Ewing, Kevin Zeitler and Shelton Johnson, along with current Wisconsin players Dez Southward and Jeff Duckworth. "Montee, Bradie and Zeitler, they were fired up to come here," Wilson said with a smile. He even received a little help from a coaching legend.

"Coach Alvarez is on the sidelines, coaching up a little bit every once in a while."

While coaching drills to improve the mental and physical skills of the kids at RWPA, Wilson's been working in the offseason on his own set of attributes, ones that helped him lead the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and into the second round of the NFC playoffs.

"I think the biggest step is continuing to work on the footwork, continue to be poised in the pocket and just take one day at a time," he said.

Although former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is no longer with the program, Wilson's impressed with new head coach Gary Andersen and his staff, as he had a chance to take part in a workout with the team this week.

"Well, he's terrific. He brings so much intelligence to the game, he brings a little fire to the game," Wilson said. "He's young, keeps it fun for the players."

The next time Wilson returns will be Aug. 23, when his Seahawks play the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition game at Lambeau Field. Although loved in Madison, he's uncertain of the reception he'll receive in Green Bay.

"I'm trying to figure out if people are going to boo me from last year's game or if they're gonna cheer me because of Wisconsin," Wilson said.

Regardless of opposing fans' cheers or jeers, Wilson hopes to leave an impact on the young lives participating in all five camps with the help of his former teammates, AMFAM and RWPA's sponsors. He thinks the Russell Wilson Passing Academy can leave that lasting mark.

"If I can change one of those kids' lives, inspire them, one of those kids, that makes the difference, and it goes a long way."

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