Sports

Seahawks’ Thomas burns to be the best

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas blocks a pass intended for the Ravens’ Torrey Smith in a 2011 game. (Associated Press)
Seahawks safety Earl Thomas blocks a pass intended for the Ravens’ Torrey Smith in a 2011 game. (Associated Press)

RENTON, Wash. – Of all the scouting reports filed on  Earl Thomas during his final year at Texas, here’s one nugget that may have been omitted: He fought alarm clocks.

“I tried and I tried,” Thomas says, shaking his head, “but I always found some way to screw it up.”

Every Tuesday during the season, Texas’ defense met at 6 a.m. to prepare for the coming game. The third week of the season was no different.

Except in one way.

Thomas overslept that morning and walked into the crowded meeting room late. Duane Akina, Texas’ veteran defensive backs coach, didn’t rip Thomas, a redshirt sophomore. He didn’t need to. Thomas was already ashamed.

“Remind you, he’s the best player on our team,” Akina says. “He could have overslept and still started.”

The next Tuesday, Akina pulled up to the team’s facility about 4 a.m. and headed inside. He quickly walked through the cavernous locker room but stopped when he noticed something strange. There, asleep on the floor, right in front of his locker, was Earl Thomas.

He wouldn’t be late again.

Thomas is one of Seattle’s fiercest practice players. He stalks around the field coiled, like he just heard bad news.  Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn compares Thomas’ intensity in practice to Bryant Young and Junior Seau.

Seething inside of him is this: A ferocious drive to not only be accepted as one of the game’s best players, but also redefine his position.

“Why can’t I be that guy who changes the way everybody looks at safety?” he says. “You watch NFL Network and hear about these great guys. I think I’m all about trying to leave a legacy.”

Thomas gets so locked in meditating before practice that he doesn’t like teammates to talk to him. Even fellow members of the Legion of Boom, his closest friends on the team, know not to bother him.

Before practice. He’s a quiet guy who likes playing music, but he’s also Seattle’s most underrated trash talker.

“I think me and Sherm are a lot alike on the field,” Thomas says of teammate and notorious trash-talker Richard Sherman, “but Sherm just does it off the field so he gets a little more recognition. But when it’s time to be a competitor, that’s what you want. I like fiery guys. I like guys that have a little dog in them.”

Much of that goes back to his childhood in Orange, Texas, a 19,000-person town near the Louisiana border.

“You’ve got to be competitive if you want to survive as far as life and sports,” Thomas says. “We have a lot of great athletes, but you have to stand out. And you have to do the extra to stand out. I just never lost that.”

That has led him here, to this season, where he will watch over Seattle’s defense as a 24-year-old free safety already entering his fourth pro season. And it has led him to a pivotal intersection: His natural athletic ability has always been there, but he’s pairing it with a mind that only now has caught up.

“I feel so confident,” he says. “I hold it all in because you have to. But I feel real confident. I’m just ready for any test. Right now I feel like it’s my time.”

Quinn coached Seattle’s defensive line during Thomas’ rookie season and returns after two years away. Thomas always had the speed and instincts, but the most striking change to Quinn is his thorough grasp of the game.

“Now the football intelligence and IQ has matched everything else he’s got,” Quinn says. “That’s why you see this really rare guy. He’s matching the football part with the mental part. That’s it. He just captured it.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called Thomas “as good as any” safety he has ever coached, a list that includes Troy Polamalu and Lawyer Milloy.

“He wants to be the best defensive back in the NFL,” Akina said. “He wants to be mentioned with the greatest players who have ever lined up.”



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