DENVER — When Jake Heaps first met Russell Wilson, he harbored doubts.
A former top-ranked high school quarterback in the nation, an athlete who experience dramatic peaks and valleys in college, Heaps knew many players whose work ethic was lip service.
Within seconds in Seattle where he ultimately landed on the Seahawks practice squad, Heaps recognized Wilson was wired differently.
"My first opportunity to run into Russell was becoming his teammate. From the outside, you wonder if Russell Wilson is really the type of guy he is. A guy who has no time for sleep. A guy who is really dedicated to the process the way he claims to be. From the moment I got there, it was evident he is all about that," Heaps told Denver7 on Tuesday in an exclusive interview. "He is 100 percent real, 100 percent genuine about that process."
Heaps, a former Seattle prep icon at Skyline High School and wearing No. 5 in the above photo, watched Wilson arrive between 5-5:30 a.m every day. He tried to beat him to the facility to show the Seahawks his own commitment. What struck him was Wilson's competitiveness and obsession with winning.
What played out at Wilson's San Diego compound a few weeks ago showed nothing has changed. Heaps witnessed it first-hand as Wilson's personal quarterback coach.
The former Colorado Rockies farmhand brought out his receivers, tight ends and two offensive linemen for a four-day immersion designed to learn the new offense and each other. The backdrop was Wilson's "Candyland for athletes" — his personal practice field, recovery center, trainers and basketball courts.
"It was really cool. It was an awesome experience. It was so incredibly important for them to get together on that level, to meet each other for the first time, and really dive into who Russell Wilson is and who they are as individuals. That was something really important for Russell in process, too. They got a crash course in Russell Wilson, his life his approach, his mentality," Heaps said.
"It wasn't about getting them out to the house to show them the amazing facility he has. It was about getting to know them on a deeper level. But, yeah, for those guys, when they showed up on that first day they were just blown away. How could you not be? He’s got his own field that’s just as good as any practice field in the entire country. It’s absurd. You talk about the details with Peyton (Manning). It's the same thing with Russell Wilson. Every little detail matters."
Wilson has revealed this in every moment since joining the Broncos. He admitted at his introductory press conference that "everything is about winning." He has talked with Manning about his transition to Denver, learning about everything from the organization to where to live.
The Broncos begin doing the heavy lifting with the first day of offseason workouts on Monday. What unfolded at Wilson's gathering — which will be repeated in July before training camp, according to Heaps — was the teaching of the route tree, ideas, concepts and verbiage. Consider it a SparkNotes version of what the offense is going to look and sound like.
"It was amazing to see them talking, and the questions they were asking and the back and forth. The amount of learning that went on was absolutely incredible. I have been doing this for five years. It was really cool to watch on the fourth day to see them spit back all the stuff Russell was teaching them. They knew the stuff and they were learning it, and you just think of how much they will know before they even get into the building in Denver and talk to the coaching staff," said Heaps, who also is a host for Seattle Sports radio (@SEASports710) from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. during the week.
"When you show that standard and set that standard it's not going to take long before it catches fire with everyone else. There are so many great players in Denver and with Sutton and Patrick, they are bonafide leaders. They just needed that standard and expectation set of what it looks like and they are going to take it and run with it."
Wilson arrives in Denver with the challenge of reviving a franchise that has missed the playoffs six consecutive years and posted five straight losing seasons for the first time since 1963-72. He embraces the pressure. At 33 years old and a nine-time Pro Bowler, Wilson sees his arrival in Denver as a new beginning, not a ride into the orange sunset.
Heaps knows this as well as anyone. He lives it, his cell phone never far away for those random 1 am texts about footwork or passing concepts.
"He doesn’t need a chip on his shoulder because I think that's fleeting. If you look at the way he’s wired, the experience he’s had, the conversation surrounding him, I just think more than anything else he’s so excited about this new opportunity he has in Denver. He's excited to build on what he’s already done in his career. He feels like he’s just getting started. And I truly believe that as well," said Heaps, whose passion for coaching the quarterback position — he works with kids as well — is obvious in conversation.
"That’s not just talk. Russell Wilson has never been about talk. As a coach you have somebody (in Wilson) who is constantly seeking greatness. And that’s all you can ever ask for."