Issue 92

Cover Story, Luke Willson, tight end for the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, pg. 8. Story by D.J. Telfer and photos by Trevor Booth.

Willson - Not Bad For A Rookie

“You know Dad, I think we are going to blow them out tomorrow.” Luke Willson said to his father the day before the biggest game of his life. The next day Luke’s NFL Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl 48.

Not bad as prognostications go and not a bad way to kick off a career. But considering the majority of NFL players go through their entire careers and never even make it to the Super Bowl let alone win it, does winning the top prize the first time out change your motivation? Does it define your career?

Luke is back home in Lasalle after finishing his rookie National Football League season as a tight end for the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. We talked about his first year as a NFL player, about winning his first Super Bowl and about a recent incident that might have been as intimidating to Luke as looking up across the scrimmage line and seeing a frothing 260 pound middle-linebacker waiting for him.

He said winning the Super Bowl in his rookie season hasn’t diminished his drive to keep winning and improving.

“I don’t think it will define my career,” he said, adding with a laugh, “unless I never play again.”

And he is not worried about being motivated. The 24 year old said he still has a lot to learn and helping the team win is always first but he also aspires to achieve career goals.

“I have personal goals and sure winning the Super Bowl was one,” he said “but I also want to be the best player I can be. I am playing in the best league and on the best team in the league, I want to live up to that...and continue to contribute. Personally I would love to make it to the Pro Bowl. Getting selected to the Pro Bowl is being acknowledged as one of the best and that would be a dream come true for me.”

Let’s not forget this is just the beginning of Luke’s career and he is only going to get better. By the way, the 6’5” rookie had 20 catches for 272 yards and one touchdown this season; he had two catches in the Super Bowl.

While this first year as been a blur and the post-Super Bowl party is still going, Luke said he hasn’t had a chance to reflect on the season.

“I think it is going to take some time before this all sinks in.” he said. “But it has been a very cool experience.”

As one of only a few Canadians playing in the NFL, one of the first challenges Luke faced was adapting to American football rules when he first stated playing for Rice University in Houston. “I was a slot receiver here and that position does not exist in American football and Canadian football does not have a tight end position.” Luke explained, “so I had to become a tight end...I had to adapt to lining up in the set position. That was the biggest challenge, that and the neutral zone rules.”

In Canadian football there is a one yard neutral zone between the teams when they face each other across the scrimmage line. In American rules this space is only inches and players line up with helmets nearly touching.

“From the set position you have to be able to react fast,” said Luke then he added ruefully, “or you will end up on the ground.”

In 2013 Luke was selected in the 5th round of the NFL draft by Seattle. He would quickly discover that playing in the NFL would be a greater adjustment than he had faced in college.

“It’s not only so much faster than college it’s much more complex.” he said, adding “And mistakes are more magnified in the NFL, mistakes have a huge impact on the game. Some things you do wrong in college you can get away with but not in the NFL.”

While the actual Super Bowl game was not a close contest and did not invite any nail-biting anxiety, at least for Seattle fans, Luke said the conference final was excruciatingly exciting.

“I think the NFC title game against San Francisco was the one of the most intense and physical games I have ever been in.” he said and he wasn’t exaggerating.

During the game, Luke caught a short pass across the middle and was immediately hammered by two linebackers. The hit sent him spinning in the air like a helicopter blade. He landed hard but hung onto the ball. He commented on what it’s like to get popped by those NFL linebackers and corners.

“It’s pretty fierce,” he chuckled, “it can be ferocious and hard-hitting out there but you don’t think about it. You are so focused on the game you don’t worry about that. You take your hits and get ready for the next play.”

The week leading up to the Super Bowl Luke said there was a positive charge in the Seattle team.

“It was just an amazing atmosphere,” he recalled. “All that week there was a noticeable confidence in the players, we knew we could win, we never felt like an underdog.”

When the first snap of the game sailed over Peyton Manning’s head and into the end zone resulting in a 2 point safety for the Seahawks, Luke thought to himself, “a couple more of those and they will dig themselves into a hole that will be too deep to get out of.”

Indeed the hole got bigger, a lot bigger and for all intents and purposes the game was over by half time. But Luke did not have time to dwell on the score.

“Being a rookie you don’t have time to think, you’re so focused on playing and what you are supposed to do - you don’t have time to think about anything but what is happening right then.” He paused. “Sometimes you make mistakes because you think too much. You have to rely on your training and talent.”

Although Luke had predicted the outcome he was just as relieved as he was overjoyed with the victory. He is proud to be a part of this championship team.

“You know, I was happy to be able to contribute, to help my team.” He said. “It has been an indescribable experience and it has been so exciting to be part of this.”

Meanwhile back in Seattle, Super Bowl fever is still running hot.

“It has been great for the city.” Luke said. “The aftermath was crazier than I imagined it would be. The fans were ecstatic and the city was buzzing. You know, Seattle has a population of 650 thousand and there were 750 thousand attending the parade. It was amazing!”

Back home in Lasalle Luke said he grew up a Detroit Lions fan, “but everybody else in the family are Packer fans.” He quipped.

He also talked about former Seattle teammate Golden Tate who recently signed a contract to play with the Lions and how this might affect his own team.

“He is an incredible player. I think this was a great signing for Detroit, ...and for Golden, ...I think he and Calvin (Johnson) are going to have great years.” He added, “It is a big loss for our team but we have the depth and with Percy (Harvin) healthy and our other receivers playing so well I think we will be okay next year.”

Luke is also a talented baseball player and for a time he considered a pro baseball career. Back in college the Toronto Blue Jays approached him and invited him to their extended spring camp.

“I had a month off from Rice and was invited to the camp. I had already made my mind up to play football but this was a great opportunity and it was a lot of fun, but it was just for fun.”

We talked about the chances of the Seattle Seahawks repeating as Super Bowl Champions.

“You know, we have a very good team.” he said confidently. “I think we can be contenders for years to come. I would love to see us being the best team year after year, to become a dynasty team.”

Since being back home Luke’s life has been spinning like a whirlwind - he has had hardly a moment to catch his breath and is admittedly getting a little burnt-out with all the press and interviews.

“I appreciate it but it is getting a little monotonous now, the same questions again and again and I don’t like having to give the same answers over and over, but this is part of the game too.”

So after a grueling rookie year; after 16 hard fought regular season games; after the off-the-chart intensity of the post-season and the even greater pressure of the Super Bowl it was unlikely Luke would have to be concerned with confronting any kind of intimidating situations until next season. But returning to his old high school St. Thomas of Villanova and having a Q&A with students in the gym, Luke found himself facing something more unexpected than a blindside hit and maybe even more intimidating than the aforementioned middle linebacker.

A senior, Stephanie Dufour asked Luke to the prom.

He didn’t know her and he didn’t see this coming. He had but a second to react and he reacted with poise and graciousness. He said yes and agreed to pick her up the night of the prom (providing there was no conflict with his schedule).

In less than 24 hours the story had gone viral and everybody was talking about it.

“I did not think it would become this big of a deal” Luke laughed. “Once the story reached Seattle everybody from the media there started calling me up. It’s been crazy.”

And what do your teammates have to say?

He laughed. “I have not talked to anyone yet but I’m sure when I go back to Seattle I am going to hear a lot from the guys.”

It seems so unlikely winning the Super Bowl in his rookie year will define Luke Willson’s NFL career. Nor will he rest on these laurels or need to find motivation.

This will not inflate his ego or diminish his efforts to give his best on and off the field.

As a football player and a person he remains polite and respectful and it does not seem that winning will sully his humble and appreciative nature.

Still, Luke Willson is a super winner in the eyes of our local young football players and a super inspiration to all Canadian players dreaming of a career in the NFL. And yes in the eyes of lovelorn young ladies Luke is super charming.

He might not see all of this yet, he is still so young and just at the beginning of his NFL journey. He is still finding his way. But no matter what happens from here on Luke will always be a Super Bowl Champion and whether that defines his career or not, it’s not bad for a rookie.

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