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Toughness pays off

Hawks rookie Teel weathered challenging season at Rutgers

Quarterback Mike Teel’s Rutgers team finished the season with seven straight wins. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Quarterback Mike Teel’s Rutgers team finished the season with seven straight wins. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Kelley Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – Sometimes the booing became so loud and the catcalls so personal that Mike Teel’s father, Mike Sr., a no-nonsense New York Port Authority cop, had to leave his seat and watch his son from the relative calm of a stadium tunnel.

After leading Rutgers to two straight bowl wins and bringing a moribund program back to life, senior quarterback Teel had gone from campus hero to villain in six tempestuous weeks.

He became the poster child for all of the discontent directed at his team after Rutgers’ 1-5 start. Fans cheered when backup Domenic Natale replaced Teel in some running situations. They booed when Teel returned.

“The booing was as loud as any place I’ve ever been. It was ridiculous,” said John McNulty, who was Rutgers’ offensive coordinator and now is the wide-receivers coach for the Arizona Cardinals. “The fans blamed everything on Mike.”

Teel was part of the great rebirth of Rutgers football and, as a Jersey boy, he took pride in the part he played in the Rutgers renaissance.

“We had high expectations for ourselves last season,” sixth-round pick Teel said, after a recent Seahawks minicamp practice. “We expected to play solid football and, for whatever reasons, it wasn’t happening.”

Teel heard the boos. Nobody on the team felt the disappointment that rumbled in the stadium more than Teel. But he didn’t collapse under the weight of it.

Rutgers finished the season with seven consecutive wins, and Teel quarterbacked the Scarlet Knights to their third straight bowl win, the Bowl, over North Carolina State.

Teel came back to throw six touchdowns passes, including five in the first half of a 54-34 win at Pittsburgh. He turned the boos to cheers in his home finale, throwing seven touchdown passes in a lopsided win over Louisville.

“I just tried to keep being myself,” he said. “I pushed myself harder than anyone else pushed himself, and when the players saw me in the film room and getting with the coaches, doing extra work, when the older guys do that, it kind of rubs off on the younger guys. If you want to get better, you have to go out and get better. That’s how basic it is.”

When it was needed, he raised hell on the practice field and in the locker room. Teel stood in front of TV cameras and carried the blame himself.

“You talk about a tough guy. I mean, I don’t know how he did it,” McNulty said. “He had to deal with the expectations of the entire state. But somehow he hung in there. He’s a resilient guy.”

The Seahawks saw enough in Teel to make him the ninth quarterback chosen in last month’s draft. In an intense predraft interview, he impressed new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp with how quickly he picked up the Hawks’ offense.

“Everybody kind of focuses on that other stuff, his intelligence and leadership skills,” McNulty said. “But I think he’s worthy of where he got taken in the draft. I think he has the talent to do it. We ran a pro offense, so he’s done all the things he’s going to be asked to do there in Seattle.”

After Rutgers’ poor start, scouts began to peel from Teel. He wasn’t invited to February’s NFL combine.

Most likely, Teel will be the Seahawks’ No. 3 quarterback this season behind Matt Hasselbeck, a former sixth-round pick, and Seneca Wallace. He will be given time to grow, time to adapt to the speed of the NFL game.

“He’s a winner,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “Mike finds a way. He makes a way. He will outwork you. He will out-prepare you.

“The Seahawks are going to find out in a hurry that they’re going to have to kick him out of the facility. He’s that kind of grinder. He’s going to find an edge.”

Mike Teel found that edge last season underneath the pile of boos at Rutgers Stadium. If history is any indication, he will grind until he succeeds in the NFL.

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