Former North Carolina State head coach Tom O’Brien says if he could do it all over again he may have started quarterback Russell Wilson as a true freshman. Doing so may have made everyone happy in Raleigh.
“We probably would have played him that first year,” O’Brien said during a conference call this week, according to Joe Giglio of The Charlotte Observer. Not starting Wilson, or at least giving serious playing time, in 2007 would have ended up avoiding what would turn out to be a bit of a complicated divorce between Wilson and NC State.
Wilson graduated from NC State in 2011 and wanted to continue pursuing a potential career in baseball. He had been drafted by the Colorado Rockies but O’Brien wanted him to focus on football. That hard stance from the football coach ended up with Wilson moving on from NC State. Eventually Wilson ended up at Wisconsin, having put the baseball plans behind him after a short stint in the Rockies minor league system. Wilson played his final year of football eligibility at Wisconsin after transferring from North Carolina State in 2011. He led the Badgers to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth, where Wisconsin lost a back-and-forth offensive battle to Oregon.
“I’m not clairvoyant, I can’t tell the future,” said O’Brien. “You make decisions based on the facts at that time. We had to make a decision that was best for N.C. State.”
NC State moved forward with Mike Glennon taking over as the starting quarterback. Glennon went on to have a 3,000-yard season with 31 touchdowns but the comparisons to Wilson continued. Wilson had comparable passing yardage to Glennon, two more touchdowns but eight fewer interceptions and provided the Badgers with more mobility. It was unfair to Glennon to compare and contrast with Wilson, but it was one O’Brien could not duck from despite going 8-5 with a bowl victory. NC State had gone -4 the year before with Wilson.
Daniel Evans was NC State’s starting quarterback in 2007. The junior passed for 2,030 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Harrison Beck backed Evans up but struggled when on the field as well. Beck ended the season with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. Going back in time and just assuming Wilson would have done better as a true freshman would be unfair, but given Wilson’s track record that would later be established, it may not be an unfair expectation.