Luke Willson: From Armed Forces Bowl to Super Bowl
Just 13 months ago, senior tight end Luke Willson (Lovett '13) took off his Rice Owls jersey for the final time after playing the United States Air Force Academy in the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl. Now, after being drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 NFL draft, he is playing on the NFL's grandest stage: Super Bowl XLVIII. The Thresher interviewed Willson to talk about the game of his life and to reflect on his days as a Rice Owl.
Rice Thresher: What's it like to know you are playing in the Super Bowl? How are you feeling right now?
Luke Willson: You kind of go through a lot of different emotions. You are pretty thankful that you get to play in the Super Bowl. You are thankful that you were on such a good team. There is a lot of media and that sort of thing. It is kind of annoying because things get blown out of proportion, so in that sense, you wish that the week would go by quickly and the game would get here. In a way, it's kind of one of those things where you are ready for the game to come. On the flip side, you want to make sure that you prepare and have all your X's and O's in check, so it's been kind of a roller coaster in terms of how emotions go.
How did Rice prepare you for the NFL? What adjustments have you had to make?
It was a completely different style at Rice, so in that sense, it was different once I got to the NFL. Pretty much, from top to bottom, you change from being a college kid to a professional, and you are expected to act like a professional, playing with grown men. In terms of football in college, you can get away with technique issues because you are bigger or faster than guys. Here, everyone is elite, so you have to elevate on your own personal skills and technique.
What was your favorite moment at Rice? What do you miss the most about playing in college?
Probably the Purdue game in September 2011 because beating a Big Ten school was pretty cool. What I miss the most is being around with my best friends. It was one of those things where we had a tight group of guys my last year. I lived in a little townhome with three or four other players. It was a lot of fun, and it is definitely something that I miss the most.
Who from Rice do you regularly keep in contact with?
Randy Kitchens (Wiess '12) is a wide receiver who was a year older than me. He comes up to Seattle quite a bit. Vance McDonald (Lovett '13) and I keep in touch. There is currently a guy on the team, Tanyan Farley, whom I speak to quite a bit. There are texts here and there. I am probably going to head down there after the season and visit all of those guys and see how they are doing.
What is it like having your former tight end buddy Vance McDonald playing for one of your most hated rivals in the 49ers?
It's really ironic to think about. Vance and I are really close. We are on teams that hate each other so much and, not only that, but we also played each other in the NFC championship. What are the chances? I mean, it's competitive when we are on the field against each other, but at the same time, I think he roots for me, and I root for him when we are not playing against each other. It's one of those things that actually helps keep our friendship going. It's really cool in that sense.
How was getting your first touchdown against the 49ers? What was that moment like for you?
It was pretty surreal in the sense that you scored a touchdown in the NFL. I guess it was a pretty incredible thing.
Tell me what it is like playing for Seahawks fans, who are some of the most passionate fans in the NFL? What is it like playing in your home stadium?
It's unbelievable, and we feed off that noise and energy. It's cool to have such a city behind you. It's pretty awesome how they show up every game going crazy, and again, it's a fun atmosphere to play in.
What are the keys to attacking the Broncos' defense after it successfully stopped Philip Rivers and Tom Brady?
It is mostly the same thing every week. Our game plan is to establish the run game. That's a big part of our offense, and if our run game is not going, it's pretty tough. We've got to make sure we get some holes open for Marshawn [Lynch] because he will definitely be able to break a bunch of tackles like he always does. We need to make sure we can run the ball, and everything else from there opens up.
Predictions for the game?
Seattle wins 24-17, and Russell Wilson will be the Super Bowl MVP.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
More from The Rice Thresher
Most of the way through the 2019 season, I thought that Rice had some of the worst luck in all of college football. Through nine games, the Owls were winless, despite four one-score losses, including an eight-point loss to a Baylor University team that ended the season ranked in the top 15. All signs indicated that the Owls were much better than their 0-9 record and that their bad luck in close games was long overdue to flip. The Owls ended that season with a three-game winning streak, including two one-possession wins, appeared to confirm that theory.
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