Back in January, three athletes converged on the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with very similar, yet drastically different, goals in mind.
Eddie Johnson, a Florida native, had gone to Europe with the intention of boosting his professional soccer career four years earlier and came back to America looking for an opportunity to restart his career.
Bobby Wagner was a 21-year-old linebacker from Utah State who was looking to do everything he could to be ready for the NFL Scouting Combine.
Virginia native Russell Wilson was looking to do the same after a standout career at Wisconsin.
Wagner at six-feet and 240 pounds and Wilson at 5-11 and 206 pounds dwarfed Johnson, who at six-feet and 180 pounds is quite sturdy by soccer standards. Yet side-by-side they trained at the Florida training center, each focused on their own individual goals.
It’s not unusual for players of such differing backgrounds to all meet at IMG Academy, where world-class athletes come in from all over the world to hone their skills, whether it is in soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball or football.
Where this threesome would end up, though, makes their story unique.
In February, Johnson signed with Major League Soccer and found himself with the Sounders FC after a trade with the Montreal Impact.
Then in the NFL Draft in April, the Seattle Seahawks picked up Wagner with the 47th overall selection, using a second round pick on the hard-hitting middle linebacker. In the next round, they picked Wilson with the 75th overall pick, making the NCAA’s all-time leader in pass efficiency rating Pete Carroll’s first quarterback selected in his three years with the Seahawks.
The draft would reunite the IMG trio in Seattle, the furthest possible city from where they first met.
“We were out in no-man’s land for a while, so we hung out together and we became friends,” Wagner said. “Who would know that a couple of months later we’d end up in the same city?”
After the draft, Johnson reached out to both Wagner and Wilson to invite them to Sounders matches and they both obliged, returning the favor to Johnson once the Seahawks season started. While the three of them worked hard together at IMG Academy, they also became fast friends off the field and that friendship helped push them in training.
“He’s got a tremendous attitude. He has a very positive perspective on life,” Wilson said. “We brought this fire to IMG Academy every day on the football side, then Eddie comes in and brings this different kind of fire. It all worked out really well.”
Not only would Johnson, Wilson and Wagner all end up in Seattle, but they would all end up reaching their gaudy goals early in their time there, too.
Wilson earned the starting nod at quarterback after a stellar preseason and Wagner outplayed veterans at his position to become the starting middle linebacker in one of the best defenses in the National Football League.
Meanwhile, Johnson is the Sounders FC’s leading scorer with 14 goals, a story of redemption that earned him a spot with the US National Team for the first time in two years, joining the squad for their World Cup qualifying matches on October 12 against Antiqua and Barbuda and October 16 against Guatemala as the US looks to advance to the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament for the FIFA World Cup.
All told, the three are doing great things for the fans at CenturyLink Field, which is just what Wilson is hoping for.
“It’s a blessing. I know that it’s all going to be successful. We’re working extremely hard to be great,” Wilson said. “It’s such an amazing city and we all want to make a difference.”
The Sounders return to action at CenturyLink Field next Wednesday against Real Salt Lake in a match that Johnson is likely to return in time to play in after the US faces Guatemala on Tuesday night. The Seahawks host the New England Patriots on Sunday.