Seahawks rookies getting lessons on life, football and franchise history
RENTON – One of the first lessons Walter Jones learned as an NFL player didn’t have much to do with football.
Jones came from a large family, and when he was drafted sixth overall by the Seahawks in 1997, he began to realize that it wasn’t in the best interest of his career or his bank account to meet everyone’s request. So he set some ground rules for his relatives and friends back home. One of them was a cutoff point in the summer after which he would be focused on getting ready for the upcoming season and nothing else.
“You have to learn how to say, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do that. I won’t do this,’” Jones said Tuesday.
The hall-of-fame left tackle shared those words of wisdom during the first day of the Seahawks’ Rookie Transition Program, a league-wide event that serves as an orientation into life in the NFL. Formerly known as the Rookie Symposium, it used to be held all at once in Canton, Ohio and was open to only drafted players. The league overhauled the format this year, doing away with the central location so that each team can host its own program. Undrafted players are now included as well.
So on Tuesday, Seattle’s 24 rookies sat in the auditorium at the team’s headquarters for a 90-minute session, the first of three that will be held this week. For the Seahawks, it was a continuation of the work they’ve been doing on their own with their rookies since early May.
Along with Jones, fellow Seahawks alums Marcus Trufant, Jordan Babineaux and Bryce Fisher offered lessons on life and football.
Before that, there was a lesson on franchise history from long-time team executive Gary Wright, who joined the Seahawks during their inaugural season in 1976 and retired in 2008 as vice president of administration. Wright talked about some of the franchise’s landmark moments, including the story of how Paul Allen rescued the Seahawks from relocation when he bought the team in 1996. He also talked about some of the moments that live on in Seahawks lore, like when Steve Largent leveled Denver’s Mike Harden following an interception, forcing a fumble and enacting revenge for a questionable hit earlier in the 1988 season.
Part of Wright’s message was about what it means to be a Seahawk. He told the rookies about the long wall inside the team’s headquarters that commemorates every player who ever appeared in a regular-season game for Seattle. He referred to it as the “all-time roster.”
“Every single player that has ever played is on there,” Wright said. “Name, number, autograph, the years he played. Again, nobody is forgotten.”
Trufant, who spent a decade with Seattle and an offseason with Jacksonville, told the rookies that they’re fortunate to have a workplace like the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the Seahawks’ state-of-the-art headquarters.
“Enjoy the locker room, enjoy the lunch room, enjoy this meeting room because it ain’t like this everywhere you go,” he said.
Trufant also shared a lesson about preparing like a professional. As a rookie in 2003, he reported to his first training camp thinking he had gotten himself in proper shape. He realized otherwise when he failed his conditioning test, which he called a “terrible look” for a player who had just been drafted 11th overall.
“After that, it kinda clicked in my mind,” Trufant said. “OK, I think I’m doing good so whatever I think I’m doing, it’s not good enough. I’ve got to go above and beyond.”
Fisher, a defensive end on the Seahawks’ 2005 Super Bowl team, talked about how much NFL rosters turn over from one season to the next. He told the rookies that in all likelihood, only eight or nine of them will make the team this season and that even fewer will stick around next year, when a new crop of rookies will mean even more competition for limited roster spots.
His message: Making an NFL team is hard enough. Screwing up makes it even harder.
“What you want to avoid is giving them an easy reason to send you home,” Fisher said, mentioning specifically the importance of learning the playbook, staying in shape and staying out of trouble.
One of the reasons the NFL went away from the centralized format was so that teams could customize their program with information and advice specific to the organization and community. Trufant believes the smaller setting is more conducive to engagement. He recalled being in a giant room at the 2003 Rookie Symposium along with every other player who was drafted that year. Many of them, he said, were either asleep or not paying attention.
“I think with an approach like this, I just think it’s a lot better,” he said. “Guys are able to ask questions, you’re not as nervous, there’s not as many people there. So I just think it’s better all-around and I think they’ll get more from it.”
The NFL only requires teams to hold the three-day Rookie Transition Program. The Seahawks, led by vice president of player engagement Maurice “Mo” Kelly, begin educating their rookies from the moment they join the team on subjects like money management, social responsibility and the potential pitfalls of life in the NFL. So for the Seahawks, the program helps reinforce what was already being taught.
“They can never hear it enough,” Kelly said. “We’ve talked to them on finances. I don’t know how many meetings we’ve had so far, but guess what? They’re still going to make mistakes. They’re still young men, they’re still growing up. Just imagine if you were 21 years old with a lot of money in your pocket. … They’re young individuals, they’re going to make mistakes and we have to be here to help them when they make mistakes.”