The 5-foot-9 undrafted free agent seized the opportunity to fill in for Marshawn Lynch on Sunday and ran for 104 yards on 16 carries.
A quick Google search on Thomas Rawls during the Seahawks’ 26-0 win over Chicago turned up a headline that pretty much sums up his football career.
“Thomas Rawls not about to steal touches from Christine Michael, fantasy value next to nil.”
Long before his arrival in Seattle, folks had been doubting him for years.
By the numbers
A look at rookie Thomas Rawls’ game Sunday vs. the Bears:
104 Yards rushing on 16 carries, a 6.5 yards-per-carry average.
12-9-12 The previous date when a Seahawks running back other than Marshawn Lynch rushed for 100 yards in a game (Robert Turbin had 108 yards in a 58-0 win over the Cardinals).
3.56 Yards averaged after contact Sunday, the second-highest total by a running back in a game this season (according to ESPN) entering Sunday night’s game.
“I just grind and work,” Rawls said Sunday after making his NFL starting debut in place of injured Marshawn Lynch, who played sparingly due to a hamstring injury. “It’s not about where you started, it’s where you finish. I learned that coming from Flint, Michigan.”
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The 5-foot-9, 215-pound undrafted rookie free agent out of Central Michigan arrived in Seattle in the spring with little chance of making the roster, considering he was fourth on the depth chart behind Lynch, Robert Turbin and Michael.
At the time, no one would have predicted he would lead the Seahawks in rushing with 104 yards on 16 carries against the Bears.
“That’s a fantastic day for this kid,” coach Pete Carroll said. “The guys were really fired up for him. He’s a fantastic competitor, tough guy. Everybody loves everything about him. He got his chance, and he came through.”
With Lynch on the sideline, Turbin in Cleveland and Michael traded to Dallas, it fell to Rawls to carry a Seahawks offense that at times struggled in Sunday’s home opener in front of 69,002 at CenturyLink Field.
Rawls became the first Seahawks running back not named Lynch to run for more than 100 yards since Turbin had 108 in 2012.
“Anytime you don’t have Marshawn, it’s tough,” said quarterback Russell Wilson, who finished with 235 yards on 20-for-30 passing.
“Thomas Rawls is lights-out,” Wilson said. “He ran the ball physical.
“What makes him special in terms of running back is that he works at it every day. He’s got a lot of grit to him, so it was cool to watch him play.”
The 22-year-old, nicknamed “The Train,” nearly fell off the football landscape after three seasons at Michigan. His time there also included a larceny charge.
He sat out the 2013 season and transferred to Central Michigan for his 2014 senior season, where he churned out 1,103 yards and 10 touchdowns despite not playing in four games.
Still, Rawls was not taken in the 2015 NFL draft.
“Coach Carroll said, ‘We’re not drafting a running back, but we really want you,’ ” Rawls said. “I prayed to God, and I said, ‘I’m coming here. I feel I can compete against anybody.’ ”
On his arrival, Rawls remembers advice he received from cornerback Richard Sherman.
“He said, ‘You make of the NFL whatever you make it,’ ” Rawls said. “Some people, they put too much pressure on themselves. They get out there and the game is too fast and the game is too hard, but it’s really not. It’s just football.”
Against Chicago, Rawls won over Seahawks fans and teammates with a hard-nosed running style that reminded many of Lynch.
“You root for those type of guys, especially a guy like myself being undrafted,” said Seahawks backup running back Fred Jackson, who played at tiny Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“He knows it doesn’t come around for everybody. He got an opportunity to showcase himself, and he did just that.”
In 2007, Jackson made his starting debut with the Buffalo Bills while filling in for Lynch. Nine years later, the 34-year-old veteran is still going strong.
“The average life of an NFL running back is 2½ years,” Jackson said. “You see it all the time, guys that don’t take advantage of their opportunities. They become a flash in the pan.
“I have no doubt that he’ll continue to work and continue to grind and not let it go to his head and think that he’s arrived. As long as he doesn’t do that, he’ll continue to get better and be a great back in this league.”