Russell Okung, the first player drafted by Pete Carroll and John Schneider, writes a first-hand goodbye to the Seahawks and Seattle, and explains why the city, the team and its fans will always be important to him.

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First came a phone call from Pete Carroll. Then I heard NFL commissioner Roger Goodell call my name: “With the sixth pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks select Russell Okung, offensive tackle, Oklahoma State.”

Finally, as I looked at my family, tears flowed.

That moment at the draft in New York — something I’d dreamed of since I was a kid from Texas — made me the first pick of the John Schneider-Carroll regime and was the moment of a lifetime. My dream of being in New York, of clutching a No. 1 jersey for a football franchise, was now my reality. I was overwhelmed.

I took my time walking to the stage to shake Mr. Goodell’s hand. I wanted to take everything in, to experience the joy of the fruit of my labor.

Immediately, I knew I wanted to do big things in Seattle. I wanted to accomplish feats Seattle had never seen before. And with my teammates, coaches, and the support of my city, we did.

My first day with the Seahawks was a pleasant surprise. We went into our team meeting and Coach Carroll addressed us, speaking of philosophy, culture and how important football was. I looked around and saw players I’d faced in college and players I’d grown up watching. It was surreal.

As I took it all in and admired my new teammates, a veteran nudged me: “I want two boxes of doughnuts every Friday, rook. And they’d better be hot.”

The rest of the season would be filled with those moments — rites of passage, if you will. I’d ask the same of my teammates in subsequent years. The circle of life.

I’ll never forget the first regular-season game at what was then called Qwest Field. Walking into the locker room, all I wanted was to prove I deserved to be a professional in the NFL, that John and Pete made the right decision. The feeling was exhilarating.

Seated across the locker room were fellow rookies Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. As I looked into their eyes, I saw the same thing. They were young and hungry. A spirited speech from Red Bryant got the the team ready. Red spoke of opportunity, and what a blessing it was to have the privilege of playing in the National Football League. He reminded us that many men were before us, but few would taste this pleasure. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

We broke our team huddle and headed into the tunnel. The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” alerted the 12s to our arrival. It was pandemonium. There was an overwhelming roar from the crowd for their home team — I felt so much love. They were behind us.

As we stood in the tunnel, knowing kickoff was near, I could feel my heart pounding. Lofa Tatupu hit me in the chest, yelling that it was our time. I felt unstoppable. We were unstoppable. My ears were ringing. The fire to win grew in my belly. Nerves made my legs shake uncontrollably.

I heard my name: “Your first-round pick out of Oklahoma State, Russell Okung!” The moment couldn’t come soon enough. I ran out to my teammates. That day, we were all we had, all we needed.

Russell Okung talks to reporters in Phoenix before Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Russell Okung talks to reporters in Phoenix before Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

The moment I stepped out on that field, I knew Seattle truly was special and I knew I wanted the Seahawks to be special. In the coming years, we would be. The staff put an amazing football team together — a group of misfits and talented players. We were tenacious, resilient and always hopeful. We would be champions one day. Super Bowl champions.

Few have had the opportunity to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in all its glory — that achievement alone puts you in a select fraternity of men. And while winning a Super Bowl is one of my proudest accomplishments, my best memories aren’t of the championship games, but of the journey. People talk about our success, but they’ll never understand the work it took to get there. They don’t know the blood, sweat, and tears. They don’t understand our commitment to one another and the time we missed with our loved ones.

We are a family. My teammates are my brothers. Together, we created a new standard of football for the Seahawks.

I’ll never forget late Monday nights at Umi eating sushi, reggae Wednesdays with Max Unger, or victory Sundays at Pesos in Queen Anne. I’ll always remember great times in Ballard, and seeing the Herding Cats at Wilde Rover in Kirkland. Times like those were a part of my journey. A part of the tradition of who we were as brothers.

I’m so grateful for the relationships I’ve developed and the amazing people I’ve encountered. These are lifelong relationships I intend to keep. All of you 12s have helped me in this journey. I can’t name you all, but know that you are instrumental in my life. I’m not who I am without you. While I’m off to Denver and excited for new opportunities, this will always be the place that raised me, that encouraged me, that watched me grow — and I’ll never forget it or take it for granted.

This city has loved me, and I will love it back. I’ll continue to do work with my nonprofit, GREATER, to bring the access and exposure of technology into underprivileged areas of Seattle. This will be my legacy, and distance will not keep me from the communities I invest in. I will continue that work.

Seattle is my home and will always be.

Russell Okung, 28, has played for the Seahawks since he was the first player drafted under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound left tackle from Oklahoma State played six seasons in Seattle before signing as a free agent with the Denver Broncos. 

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