By Adam Biggers/@AdamBiggers81
They lined up one-by-one, looking to get that one extra rep—or to hold on just a bit little longer during their descent—while doing neutral-grip pull-ups in front of a guy who did the same thing for the same coach five years ago at a school just minutes away.
A skinnier kid, one who was probably in middle school this past year, was one of the first to volunteer for the exercise.
“No, no big man. You’ve got to go up, let me see your arms,” said Thomas Rawls, with his right arm acting as a support beam.
“Give me one more,” he said, raising his voice.
In and out of rhythm, the kid progressed through the set. “Seven!” he shouted. “Eighttt…niiiine…”
Then he was pushed down twice.
“Seven! Seven! Seven!,” Rawls barked back, purposely repeating the count until the young Northwestern player had earned the right to advance to the next number.
Finishing with at least 15 reps—but credited for just 10—the kid slapped hands with Rawls, who used free time away from the Seattle Seahawks during this past weekend to visit friends and family in Flint. Impressed by the effort, Rawls embraced the player with a half-arm hug, congratulating the kid for passing the test.
Then it was time for the next to hop on the bars. Knowing he’d have to repeat if Rawls didn’t like the rep, he started off in near-perfect form, only to lose track about midway. Rawls made him start over.
“Do you want this?” Rawls asked, this time using a few fingers to prop the dangling kid, who strained to reply “Yes!”
“Show me,” said Rawls, who repeated the same process for roughly 10 minutes. Following the weight room activities, it was time for players to break into pods.
“O-line, you’re in the classroom!” yelled coach Jackson. “Skilled positions, you’re outside!”
Scurrying through a mob of high schoolers, Rawls made his way to the parking lot to pick up a few things. Pulling out his keychain, he pops the trunk of a jet black Lincoln, revealing a stash of gym bags, athletic wear, and most importantly, his navy blue, action green and wolf grey Nike cleats.
Seattle Seahawks colors, of course.
He had others, but they happened to match what he was wearing—a Seahawks shirt and shorts.
“That was me!” he said, still bent over in his trunk. “That was me!”
“That” was an underclassman, already worn from lifting weights, who was dragging a rolling suitcase across the broken pavement. The small plastic wheels didn’t sound as if they were turning—they sounded more like they were being scraped along by someone who was trying to conserve energy for the next round of events.
Smiling, Rawls continued staring toward the kid. Shaking his head in amusement, he tied his cleats, shut his trunk and followed the line of others hauling cases and lugging backpacks.
“I feel like I just did this yesterday,” said Rawls, laughing, as he giddily stepped from the parking lot onto the sidewalk leading to the field.
Click, clack. Click, clack. Click, clack.
His cleats made the same sound as the others’ did. They were more expensive and shinier, but they made the same exact sound. Rawls was back where it started. Well, he was in a way. His former school, and his old coach’s former school, had been shut down due to budget issues. Once fierce rivals, Northwestern and Northern are now fused together—they call it Northwestern Preparatory today.
Rawls didn’t fully participate in Monday’s practice—the Seahawks probably wouldn’t have approved of that. However, the Michigan grad and former Central Michigan star did throw a few footballs and lightly jogged the field prior to eventually settling into a coaching role.
As the whistles blew, players again separated into groups. Carefully watching hip movement, balance and footwork, Rawls guided his old coach’s players—some of which “were from the same neighborhood as me,” said Rawls—as they stepped through a series of cone drills.
“Nice hips! Nice hips!” Rawls said as Wildcats quarterback Shamond Halbert made his way through the set. Another, much smaller player than Halbert, complete with multicolor socks, shot past with legs moving in a blur—and then it was another, and then another.
Due to inconsistent energy, some of the players were pulled aside by Rawls, who reminded them that shortcuts always result in quick failures.
“You play like you practice,” he yelled during a drill. “You play like you practice.”
With players breaking for water, Rawls answered a flurry of Seahawks-related questions just to satisfy my curiosity. They will be outlined in a later post. He was interested in talking shop, but he couldn’t help but peer off to the side in order to catch a glimpse of the activity between “So, what’s your impression of Pete Carroll?” and “How are you fitting in with your new teammates?”
It’s not that he didn’t want to talk about his NFL career. He’s always answering questions about that. However, that conversation was secondary for the four hours he spent Monday with the Wildcats.
Instead, he chose to be himself, which wasn’t really that hard. Rather than boasting about yards and touchdowns, he talked about getting degrees, self-respect and having futures. Not long ago, he ran the same fields, played the same teams and had been coached by the same man. Other than a school merger and a next-level career, not much has changed for Rawls.
He’s looking forward to having a lengthy career in the NFL, which in a way came off kind of funny—to me at least. Five years ago, he wasn’t sure if he’d play at a major college, let alone stand a chance of making it with the Seahawks.
“I’m going to come home a lot, man,” he said with permanent-looking grin. “I’m one of them.”
That’s true. He is “one of them”—just a dream accomplished and a handful of years later.