Seahawks players and coaches shared their memories about the first time they stepped on a football field.
The in-stadium camera at CenturyLink Field cut to Steven Hauschka, and he smiled and fans politely applauded. His grinning mug stayed on the giant screen for a second or two longer, and then he raised the roof with both arms, and the fans loved him for it.
He cupped a hand to his ear — urging more noise — and the fans happily played along. He was the conductor, and the masses were his orchestra.
It was comic relief during last week’s loss to Carolina, because kickers don’t normally do that sort of thing. If they did, how many could send the stadium pulsing? Hauschka, the Seahawks’ veteran, has earned that privilege.
Just a week before, in the corner of the Seahawks’ plush locker room, Hauschka stared at a picture of himself from a much quieter time. In the photo, he is frozen the moment before sending the ball into the air. The stance, the posture, would be enough for any diehard to ID Hauschka.
He is wearing the blue uniform of Middlebury College, enrollment of 2,526 in 2014, located in the rolling hills of Vermont. There are few fans in the bleachers on one side of the field, and the grass is thick and long. This is where former soccer player Steve Hauschka, as friends and family called him, became the NFL kicker Steven Hauschka.
“Long journey,” he says, staring at the picture.
All the Seahawks have a story like Hauschka’s. They all started somewhere, on some flawed field, without any reasonable expectation of where they would end up. Some began playing when they were 6. Others waited until high school. Hauschka is the latest bloomer; he didn’t play organized football until he was 19 and in college.
“I was 19. I was at Middlebury College during training camp. It was my sophomore year. I just remember the pads were huge. They had me in linebacker pads, and the jersey barely fit. The pads came up to my ears it felt like — or higher. I liked kicking. It was a whole different culture. I was pretty good, and I had a lot of power. I just had to figure out how to be more accurate.”
The first fields the Seahawks played on are like first cars. No matter how beat up or raggedy they were, they will always be sentimental. It was the beginning of something new, an adventure that has yet to end.
Seahawks players and coaches shared their memories about the first time they stepped on a football field. Here are some of the more notable accounts.
Receiver Jermaine Kearse: Lakes High School, Lakewood
“I played quarterback. I ran the ball most of the time. I had only one passing attempt. It wasn’t complete, no. Hell, no. I only threw it because I wanted to know what it was like to throw the ball. We were strictly a run team. One of my friends, his dad was the head person of the organization. I wasn’t even going to play in high school. I didn’t really want to. I only really started because all of my friends played. I was more into basketball.”
Tight end Luke Willson: Fogolar Furlan Italian club, Windsor, Ontario
“I was playing running back. I was scared (expletive). I had never been tackled before, and we were playing one of the worst teams in the league. The first play, we ran ‘34 lead,’ and I broke a touchdown but got called back for a penalty. We ran it again the very next play, and I scored another touchdown. I wasn’t tackled the entire game and was pulled by the end of the first quarter. True story. The next week, the first play was ‘34 lead,’ and I broke it for 20 yards — and had a huge collision with the safety and was like, ‘So that’s what it feels like.’ My claim to fame was for a while that I had never been tackled. Playing running back and middle linebacker in eighth grade in Canada has its perks.”
Defensive end Cliff Avril: Green Cove Springs (Fla.) Junior High
“I hated football. I sucked. I went out my seventh-grade year and didn’t come back out until my 10th-grade year. That’s how much I hated it. I didn’t tell my parents I played until I was a junior when I broke my leg. That’s how they found out I was playing football. At the time, they just knew football was a rough sport. They didn’t really want me playing it. In the Haitian community, football was looked down upon. Soccer was the sport to play. But I just played it because all of my friends were playing it.”
Receiver Doug Baldwin: Salvation Army in Pensacola, Fla.
“A sand pit and spotted field. … It was hot as (expletive). There were bugs everywhere. And it was difficult. I actually quit my first year when I was 6 years old. I had an itch for football, but for whatever reason I quit my first year. My second year I came out again, and my mom was like, ‘If you start, you’re going to finish it.’ I wanted to quit my second year, too, but she wouldn’t let me. And the rest is history.”
Linebackers coach Michael Barrow: Harris Field, Homestead, Fla.
“I believe I was in the seventh grade. … I had a love affair for playing cornerback. At the time my favorite player was a corner, so I wanted to be a corner. I played corner and running back, and playing neighborhood ball prepared you for that. When you played, the biggest thing was getting color on your helmet. What I mean is you want to have big hits and get the other team’s color on your helmet. It was like a reward, a scar. And if you played well, you got the little skull bones on your helmet. I remember that if you didn’t have a lot of big hits, you took your helmet and scraped it on the cement. ‘See, man, I got some color!’ That was the biggest thing I remember. It was the same field I played on in high school. I grew up playing tackle in the grass touching the road so I really didn’t care about the quality of the field. There would be beer bottles, but I just played.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman: Athens Park, Los Angeles
“It was in South Central, LA. I was seven or eight. I remember the pads being way too big. They were loose. They were kind of heavy. And I felt stiff. I felt like I couldn’t lift my arms. Back then I was playing offensive line. I played guard, wearing No. 90. I was all right. I didn’t talk much. I didn’t really know how to play.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson: Highland Springs Park, Richmond, Va.
“I always had a football in my hands, but the first time I ever played in a league I was sixth or seventh grade. I played a lot of baseball growing up, and I used to always throw the football around and play tackle football after school and during recess. But the first time I ever played was the Tuckahoe Tomahawks. It was in Richmond, Virginia, and my AU team was a really good AU baseball team, and one of the assistant coaches was the assistant coach for this Tuckahoe Tomahawks team, and they had one quarterback, so I ended up joining the team. I think the game was on Saturday, and I went to practice on Friday. This is like in the middle of the season they were fighting for playoffs. I had huge hands and this little football, so I could just chuck the ball like 70 something yards. So they’re all looking around like, ‘What’s going on?’ I go to the game on Saturday, and I’m not starting. I don’t know any of the plays. I’ll never forget this. We’re playing Highland Springs and first play of the game — this isn’t funny, but I’m just laughing because it’s a crazy story — but first play of the game, they blitz off the edge and they hit the quarterback, just blow him up, and (he) ruptures his spleen. It’s kind of a sad situation. He ruptures his spleen and has to go to the hospital. So I had to go in, and I had no idea what the plays are. I knew football really well because I played all the time, so I got in the dirt, and I drew up all pass plays. I drew up the pass plays in the dirt, and we’d just go off it. And Highland Springs was number one in the city at the time, and we were like third, and we ended up blowing them out like 60 to 7.”
Left tackle Russell Okung: YMCA field in Alief, Texas
“I remember us running gassers and almost having an asthma attack. I’m dead serious. That’s the only memory I have from my first practice. I used to get in trouble in school, and my mom figured that football would help with discipline. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it until high school. I would always fail out and everything. I would play and then I would fail out and I couldn’t play. It wasn’t until my second year in high school that I started to like it.”
Center Drew Nowak: St. Philip Church, Green Bay, Wis.
“I played in a church league starting in fifth grade, and St. Philip Church had a football field in Green Bay right next to the church. … You didn’t go out there to play for anything but just because you loved playing. You didn’t have any pressures from outside people or any stress. You just went out there and had a blast playing with your buddies. You got to run, you got to hit, and our team was really good. We only lost one game in four years. It was just a blast. I still have buddies that I used to play with who hit me up and say, ‘Remember back to those days?’ I definitely miss those times. My dad coached us. In everything I did my dad was always really tough, but it just taught me hard work, and you had to work harder than the rest.”
Punter Jon Ryan: Leibel Field in Regina, Saskatchewan
“I was 8 years old playing tackle football. Everyone was a lot bigger than me. It was a 12-and-under league, and every kid on the team was 11 or 12, and I was 8. Where I came from, at the time, 12-and-under was the youngest age group you could play in. Now, 25 years later, we have one of the best minor football associations in all the country and have 8- and 9-year-olds playing, all the way up. It’s pretty cool to go back and see how far it’s come. I was actually pretty good as a kid. I actually started up an 8- and 9-year-old Mighty Mites Division of tackle football. We just had the first year and had 350 kids come out. It’s still near and dear to my heart. It’s funny, when I played it was an old, muddy field with a couple of bleachers. Now I go back and it’s field turf with 2,000 permanent seats and a luxury box. Personally, I just think about how far I’ve come. People always ask me what the odds were of me making out to the NFL out of Regina, Saskatchewan. No one had ever done it before, so there were no odds. I get pretty thankful coming from there to where I am right now.”
Linebacker Bobby Wagner: Colony High School, Ontario, Calif.
“I remember the grass was fresh. By the end of the season it’s always just dirt and mud, so I just remember watching the seniors play the year before and then seeing the difference at the beginning my first year. I liked the speed. I felt like I got a lot out, I got to take my aggression and anger out on somebody else. My mom didn’t want me to play football. I kind of started getting older and started feeling like I could make decisions for myself. I really just started playing football to get in shape for basketball, but it turned out I liked football more than basketball. It took me a minute, probably until my junior year, to like it. I didn’t understand the game. I didn’t know what they were talking about. They were talking about blitzing A and B gaps, and I didn’t know what that was. My mom actually ended up loving it.”