BY SARA ECKERT
(CBS HOUSTON) – Luke Willson is living the dream.
From being a multi-sport star in high school in Canada to playing tight end at Rice, where he led the Owls to a bowl-game win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl his senior year, to playing in the Super Bowl his first two seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, Willson is just soaking it all in.
“Really surreal in a way, but a lot of fun,” Willson said. “As an athlete, you take a lot of pride in your journey to get here and this Super Bowl week is kind of almost like a reward. It’s really one of those things where you kind of look back after everything you’ve been through, and to be able to say that you’ve been a part of one and hopefully two Super Bowl-winning teams is pretty special.”
The Seahawks chose Willson in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, the tight end had two catches for 17 yards in Seattle’s 43-8 blowout win over Denver, becoming just the sixth Rice Owl to win a Lombardi Trophy. Now he’s back in the Super Bowl with the Seahawks in just his second season. But even as he’s enjoyed immediate success, Willson credits Rice head coach David Bailiff and his staff for preparing him for his time in the NFL and he’s excited about where the Rice program is headed.
“One of the things I really look at is my first three years were a bit of a struggle physically and we were really trying to turn things around, so we faced a lot of adversity,” Willson said. “A lot of programs really can’t get through that but we were able to do it.
“To turn that program into a three-year bowl team and continually win, it’s cool because you don’t want to be a part of a team that continually struggles like we were there for a while, so it’s pretty special.”
Willson takes a lot of pride in his success so far in the league, as well as fellow former Owls who are also playing in the NFL.
“Especially when you go to a smaller school like Rice – the whole time you’re sitting there watching the big college games like A&M and Texas and I would always wonder what makes these guys better than me, and then you get to this level and you realize that – obviously there’s a lot of bigger schools that football-wise they’re probably a little better than Rice – but individually, Rice still has a lot of good players that can play at that level.”
And that is a message Willson likes to pass along whenever he visits Rice and talks to current players.
“I usually tell these guys, ‘Don’t sell yourself short. When you’re at a little school like Rice, you kind of think there are all these unbelievable football players that are just head and shoulders above you guys, but I’ve been here, been to the biggest stage. It really doesn’t matter what school you came from, if you’re trying to go to the next level, you’ve got the opportunity.’”
In his first year with Seattle, Willson tallied 272 yards and one touchdown, followed by 362 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. As for his Seahawks’ success and being on the receiving end of star quarterback Russell Wilson, this Willson feels a little spoiled, but he’s just trying to stay focused.
“(Wilson’s) a pretty unbelievable guy so it’s pretty special, but that being said, I’ll have more time when I retire to reflect,” Willson said. “Right now, you’re in the moment and you’re trying to get a job done Sunday.”
One last question for all the local athletes playing in this year’s Super Bowl: What is the first place you have to visit when you go back to Houston?
“Chuy’s was my spot,” Willson said. “I miss going to Chuy’s. That was kind of a cool little Thursday or Friday night theme – we’d head out there, the football guys. We had a lot of fun times there.”