Luke Willson isn’t sleepless in Seattle.
The LaSalle, Ont., native is attending the Seahawks’ rookie training camp, which began on Friday, the first stage in his evolution as a professional football player.
The Seahawks selected the 23-year-old in the fifth round of the recent National Football League Draft out of Rice, banking on his speed, size, blocking ability and pass catching talent.
The 6-foot-5, 251-pounder literally has a large task ahead of him because the Seahawks are stocked at his tight end position with five on the depth chart, including Zach Miller, one of the highest-paid players at his position in the NFL.
“I expect it to be a tough, challenging rookie camp, getting a lot of reps,” he told sportsnet.ca just before leaving. “I’m going in there to compete and expecting to prove why they drafted me. I’m looking forward to being part of the offence. It seems like it’s a lot of fun. They obviously wouldn’t use a draft pick if they didn’t have plans for me. I’m going to take it one step at a time.
“I don’t really view myself as blocker who can catch or a guy who can catch that can block. I know it sounds like a cliché, but whatever is asked of me I can do that. I feel like I have enough speed and have confidence in my hands to catch the ball, but at the same time I have no problem putting my head down to block. Whatever is needed, I’ll do.”
Willson is considered somewhat of an X factor because he missed two games in his senior season due to injuries and was also battling Vance McDonald, selected in the second round by San Francisco, for playing time. Willson caught only nine passes, including two for touchdowns, for 126 yards, compared to 29 for 313 – three of them TDs – in his junior season. He had 33 for 425 and three majors in his sophomore year.
Willson was not invited to the NFL Combine, but excelled in his pro day when NFL teams could come to the Rice campus in Houston to watch him work out in speed and strength drills. He had fully recovered from an ankle injury and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds and 4.46, which is really fast for a person his size.
“I’ve always been a pretty good runner for a kid my size,” he said.
But he also took advantage of an opportunity set up by his agent to train in Florida under the tutelage of Mike Gough, who fine-tuned his speed specifically for the 40. Gough operates Athletic Edge Sports, which began in 2002 and is designed to help amateur and professional athletes reach their speed and strength potential. It has been particularly useful for players heading into the NFL and CFL Player Combine.
Some of the players who recently made use of his tutelage include Linden Gaydosh, selected first overall by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in this week’s CFL Draft out of the University of Calgary, and Stefan Charles, selected 10th overall by Edmonton out of the University of Regina. He had already signed a free-agent deal with the Tennessee Titans. In total, there were 15 players taking part in the camp. Willson spent almost nine weeks at the camp.
“His record speaks for itself,” Willson said of Gough. “He’s an incredible strength and conditioning coach. “You want to do as best as you possibly can on Pro Day. I kind of knew I was going to run that fast. I didn’t go into Pro Day thinking, ‘This is it. If I don’t run well this is the end of my career.’
“I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been in two years. Some of it is because of rest, but also when you get injured you get to understand how injuries occur, kind of protecting your body and becoming more mobile. ”
Willson attended the Toronto Blue Jays’ extended spring training camp in 2012 as a first baseman, but the former member of the Canadian national junior baseball team isn’t really focused on that sport any more. It’s all about professional football.