ONU student acts as Russell Wilson’s body double in Super Bowl commercial.
Appearing in a Super Bowl commercial with an NFL superstar – it just doesn’t get more unexpected than that.
But that’s exactly what happened to Ohio Northern University student Mark Niles Jr.
The junior manufacturing technology major from Miramar, Fla., became a celebrity doppelganger when he appeared as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s on-screen body double in a CBS Super Bowl pregame commercial filmed just down the street from the campus of ONU at the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, Ohio.
It all started one wintry Friday in late January. Niles, a player on ONU’s football team, wasn’t up to much of anything when he received a mysterious text from ONU head football coach Dean Paul. The text went something like this: “Have a great opportunity for you. Can’t text you any details, but give me a call.”
Niles was intrigued, so he picked up the phone and called his coach. What was requested of him was just about the furthest thing from his mind just one minute earlier.
“Coach was telling me that the Wilson factory was doing a commercial, and they needed somebody roughly around my body size to be a body double,” Niles says. “So, I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Who wouldn’t want to be in a Super Bowl commercial?”
Niles’ initial reaction was one of shock and excitement. He knew he would be a stand-in for an NFL player, but he wouldn’t know who until filming occurred in a few days. He couldn’t wait to get to it.
When he walked onto the set that Monday morning at the Wilson Football Factory, the factory floor had been transformed into a mini-Hollywood set – complete with CBS film crew, director’s chairs, makeup artists – the whole nine yards. It was then that it really started to sink in what was happening.
Niles was actually on set about 40 minutes before Wilson arrived. Since everyone was running on a tight schedule, the crew needed Niles to stand in so they could adjust their cameras and lighting to prepare everything ahead of time. That way, all Wilson needed to do was run through all the takes. And there were a lot of takes.
Before long, Wilson arrived with his wife, R&B singer-songwriter Ciara, their daughter and their pet dog (who appeared in the commercial). Niles admits he wasn’t really “star-struck” (he had met a few NFL players before in training facilities back home), but it was exciting nonetheless.
“It was a little bit meet and greet,” Niles says about meeting Wilson, “but he also asked me what position I played and stuff like that. Our main conversation was about football, but that was it for the most part.”
Niles remained on set for about six hours total, standing in and re-creating certain shots. He even got to operate the crew’s clapperboard, the iconic Hollywood motif, a few times. He walked away with a few mementos, too – a selfie with Wilson and the blue factory-issue Wilson shirt he wore during filming.
Then came the hard part – keeping the secret until the commercial aired.
“It was hard because I kept forgetting I couldn’t tell anybody, so it would almost slip out, but I’d be like, ‘Oh, I can’t say it.’ Just bring it back.”
Niles didn’t get a chance to see the finished product until after it aired on national television. When he did finally see it, he could pinpoint three spots in the two-minute commercial where he actually appeared – two shots of his back and one of his profile. To the untrained eye, it was virtually undetectable, but he could take screenshots and circle those instances to show his family and friends.
“It was just the coolest thing,” he says. “All the work that we did and then just being able to see how it all came together, that was the best part about it.”
Looking back, Niles admits that it’s an experience he never expected to have coming to the small, remote campus of Ohio Northern, but, then again, reminiscent of the University’s own regional Super Bowl commercial two years ago, there’s a reason we tell our students to “expect the unexpected.”