Exclusive: We Talked To Russell Wilson’s Former NC State Teammate Who Called Bullsh*t On His Graduation Speech
Former North Carolina State Wolfpack offensive lineman Kalani Heppe has been off social media for several years to focus on work. But just weeks after his return, he unintentionally set the internet ablaze with comments that called out current Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback and former NC State teammate Russell Wilson.
BroBible got an exclusive follow-up interview to let the former guard elaborate on why he took to Facebook to let his opinions of DangeRuss be heard.
From Heppe’s Facebook:
“I think it is pretty well known how much I despise Tom O’Brien on a molecular level… However… Getting rid of Russell Wilson was the one admirable thing he did during his tenure at State. 80% of the shit that Russell said in his speech didn’t even happen, it was really hard for Russell to field punts and play safety when his head was firmly lodged up all the offensive coaches asses on a daily basis. Russell was a great player, but he was a “me” player, unable to put the team before himself and his “illustrious” baseball career at State. Fuck Russell, us real State people still have Phillip Rivers to claim”
In Wilson’s commencement speech at Wisconsin a few weeks ago, much of it was framed around adversity and his time at State, and commending the hard fought battles of graduates he met before commencement.
Then Wilson jumps into the portion of his speech that’s become the firestorm of controversy:
“You may be surprised to hear this, but life has told me ‘no’ lots of times in my career. In 2007, I went to college at NC State because I wanted to play baseball and football. Most of all, I wanted to play quarterback in the National Football League.
Fast forward to 2008, my first eligible year on the football team, and I’m fighting against four other guys for the starting job. In training camp there’s a red jersey they put on quarterbacks. Nah, not this guy. No one gives me that jersey. I’m doing everything, catching punts, catching routs, getting hit. I know I can play quarterback, I just need a chance.
About two weeks before our first game, my coach calls me into his office to tells me I’m not getting that chance. Excuse my country voice but he says, ‘Son, I’m switching your position. I’m moving you to safety.’ He’s not asking me. He’s telling me.”
Heppe and former NC State head football coach Tim O’Brien might have had a short time together, but in that time, there were specific fundamental differences.
“Going from (Chuck) Amato, who was charismatic, to someone who was stoic beyond belief, it’s really hard to adapt.” Said Heppe. “But I don’t think I was the only player who felt that way, and I think that’s something Wilson and I actually have in common.”
Much of the Heppe response in circulation has read something like, “Unless Heppe was in the room with O’Brien and Wilson, I don’t want to hear another word.” That’s a fair statement, and as far as that’s concerned, we might never hear the complete story, as there are always three sides to every story—which includes the truth. Even Heppe acknowledged that by saying, “From a fundamental basis, I never liked O’Brien. But I can’t comment on Wilson and O’Brien because I wasn’t in the room. O’Brien is kind of a dick, so I can see the conversation going that way.”
With transfer rules and social media, it’s a safe assumption that stories like this will only grow in prevalence. However, Heppe mentioned his thoughts on player transfer drama by saying players clash with coaches all the time, and that it’s just a waste of time. “It’s a situation where he got called out on a power play. I’m happy for him and all of his success, but that’s not my issue. It’s a team issue.” Said Heppe. “People are so concerned with what you can and can’t say about Wilson. It’s not like he transferred to a lower D-I school; I’d be an idiot to to say Wisconsin wasn’t an upgrade from State, and I bleed State till the day I die.”
Heppe admittedly discussed how most Wisconsin and Seattle fans hate him at the moment, with accompanying death threats (the direct messages on Facebook are proof). But the main questions he’s received have been, “What team do you play for?” And “What’s wrong with him trying to make himself better?” To which Heppe says, “Make yourself better; nobody should ever try and stop someone from that. However, when you compromise what 110 other people are trying to accomplish for your own self-interest, that’s where I have a problem.”
What people are missing in the message is how football is a team sport, and sure, Wilson does have a great story—nobody is trying to take that away from him—but there’s no reason to try and make it better than it is, or blur the lines.
Anyone who has played any sport (much less D-I football) knows that you have to make sacrifices to play. “I was offered to throw at State, but I signed on to play football.” Said Heppe. “If Wilson wanted to play baseball, it shouldn’t have been at the expense of 110 other guys.”
Wilson’s career at N.C. State saw noticeable fluctuations, and in January 2011, he informed O’Brien of his plans to pursue Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies.
Revisiting Heppe’s comments on football being a team sport and making sacrifices, O’Brien was open about his reservations as they pertained to Wilson’s time commitment pledged to Wolfpack football. However, when Wilson failed to earn an invitation to the Combine in 2011, NC State granted his release, where he had one year left of eligibility. For Heppe, former players and State fans, this is why Wilson’s account of events raised eyebrows.
As for sports writers who are saying Heppe is lying about even being on the same team as Wilson, Heppe says, “We only played a year together, but he said he didn’t wear a red jersey. Bullshit. Everyone starts their careers on scout team, myself included, and you couldn’t be touched in practice without the jersey.”
Heppe wanted to stress the word “practice,” because even though he was a senior while Wilson was a redshirt freshmen, they still practiced together, giving Heppe the platform to say that quarterbacks like Wilson are hard to block and work the pocket for. Heppe did want to say that his comments in no way were intended to devalue Wilson’s talent, because he is a solid quarterback. But timing is everything, as most if not all football players and fans can agree with.
One of Heppe’s oldest friends from State won the Super Bowl with the Saints, so jealously definitely wasn’t the intention of the post. Aside from that, Heppe said the only thing he regrets in his initial post were the grammatical errors, but that he stands by every word. Heppe has worked with underprivileged and abused children for several years, so it’s a rewarding job. Although he admits it’s not football, he says he’s part of a team that affects real change and saves lives. He wishes Wilson continued success, but hopes that underscoring transparency is the real lesson learned out of this whole situation.