By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Back before he was Bam Bam, the baddest man in the best secondary in football, before he was one of the most feared hitters in the NFL, Kam Chancellor had a talk with Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and didn’t quite believe what his coach was asking of him.
Despite the fact that Chancellor didn’t start a game as a rookie, Carroll told the young safety before the 2011 season that he wanted Chancellor to help lead the Seahawks defense.
“I was like, ‘Man, I feel like I haven’t made enough plays yet,’” Chancellor recalled.
But even if Chancellor was hesitant to replace Lawyer Milloy not just as a strong safety, but as a locker-room leader, Carroll knew there was something special in the fifth-round pick who spent his rookie season making plays on special teams while also studying under Milloy.
“It was interesting because we saw him as a guy that would have a very effective voice, and he didn’t think that — until he accomplished something, is really how he put it,” Carroll said. “I really respect that.
“He’s strong, he’s really consistent on where he comes from and who he is. He doesn’t mind saying something to someone when the time is right. He’s not a big rah-rah type guy, but he just stands for toughness and strength and he has a really good perspective. He made an early impression on us in that regard, and then he played like it.
“He played like a first-class leader as soon as he got the chance.”
Chancellor rewarded the faith the Seahawks put in him that year, recording 97 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. A player whose mild off-field demeanor belies his on-field style, Chancellor found his voice in the locker room as well, becoming not just one of the most important players on an emerging young defense for his play, but also because of the way he could command a room or a huddle.
“He’s a guy who’s willing to do anything for the team to make us better,” said safety Earl Thomas, the other half of Seattle’s flash-and-smash duo on the back end of its defense. “He started off on special teams, he was a core guy there, then when he stepped on the field on defense, he never looked back. You’ve got to respect a guy who came from the bottom and now is one of the best leaders on our team.”
Though to the folks who know him, the fact that Chancellor had to come from the bottom, so to speak, is still a little puzzling. Sure Chancellor was big for a safety/small for a linebacker, but ‘tweener or not, he was a good enough athlete to have spent his freshman year at Virginia Tech playing cornerback, off all positions.
Early in practice during his first summer in Blacksburg, Chancellor was doing one-on-one drills when Hokies coach Frank Beemer went to defensive coordinator Bud Foster with an idea.
“Man, this Chancellor kid might be a corner,” Beemer told Foster.
“I said, ‘You’re kidding?’” Foster said in a phone interview. “For his size, people are shocked at how athletic he is. I don’t know where the doubt was. The guy’s a big-time athlete.”
Chancellor had to wait until the third day of the draft to hear his name called, but he found the perfect landing spot in Seattle, which had a defensive scheme he fit into well, and a perfect mentor in Milloy to help teach him the ropes. And even if it took Chancellor a little longer to find the leadership in himself than it did for Carroll to see it, the fact that his team put that kind of faith in him, along with the results on the field, helped him warm to the idea quickly.
“They let me go out there, play my ball, and I made the Pro Bowl that year,” he said. “… I felt like it was my time to step up and be the voice of the team and just show guys the right way.
“They saw more in me than I did. I don’t get too high on myself, I don’t get too low, but they saw a leader in me the way I do things, the way I carry myself and how I present myself. Them seeing that in me was a big deal.”
But before we paint Chancellor as some sort of introvert who was afraid to lead, it’s important to realize this isn’t new for him. Yes, he wondered why Carroll was asking that of him so soon in his career, but Chancellor was a quarterback in high school, and at Virginia Tech, he asked to move from his natural strong safety position — the Hokies call the position a rover in their defense — to free safety in order to better lead the defense.
It was a decision that helped Tech’s defense, but also might have hurt Chancellor draft stock with him playing out of position for most of his final two years of college.
“That’s our field general, the player who makes a lot of the checks,” Foster said. “He really wanted to be in that role, and that exemplified the kind of guy he is and what he wanted to do for the team. He’s always been a take-charge guy.
“He’s got great leadership qualities, he’s got a great football IQ. I think that goes to his days as a quarterback, then being a field general for us. He understands the big picture when it’s all said and done, and that’s what makes him a special player.”
Those leadership qualities, as well as his play on the field, make it fitting that Chancellor was the first of Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s draft picks to earn a big contract extension, worth $28 million over four years. There will be plenty more extensions coming in the next couple of years as this young roster ages and becomes more expensive, but there was significance in Chancellor being first.
When asked about Chancellor the day the extension was announced, Schneider made it clear that re-signing Chancellor was the No. 1 priority of the offseason, not trading for Percy Harvin or signing the likes of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett or Antoine Winfield.
“From the get go,” Schneider said in April. “Anything that happened other than being able to sign Kam was going to be a bonus for us. It was our absolute No. 1 priority. … This is a big deal, and we’re trying to make a big deal out of this today for Kam.”
A new contract only ups the ante for Chancellor, and he’s more than happy to take on that responsibility. When Bruce Irvin became the latest Seahawk to be suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, Chancellor was one of the veterans who led a team meeting to address the issue, and he was the one who stood in front of reporters and talked about accountability. “At some point in time you have to mature yourself and grow up and not make the same mistakes over and over. We have to protect the team,” he told the media.
Even better than added responsibility, Chancellor’s new contract allowed him to do something he’s longed dreamed of — take care of his mother. Chancellor hasn’t done a lot for himself yet with his newfound millions, but two of the first purchases he made were a car and house for his mother, the latter being a surprise.
“It’s something we talked about all my life. As a kid I said I wanted to buy my mom a big house and a car,” he said. “It’s like a dream come true. It’s something you dream about, and I made it a reality.
“She thought she was just getting a car. I told her I’d get her a house later in the year, but that I would get her a car right now to start her off. So I went home and found a house, and the day of the closing, I sent all my relatives to the house to be in there and surprise her. We pulled up to the house, the car was outside. It was locked, so I told her ‘let’s go inside and get the keys from the guy.’ We knocked on the door, it opened and everybody jumped out. She was crying, she really enjoyed it. It was emotional. It felt like I got a new house. It felt good.”
Two years after Carroll surprised Chancellor by asking him to be a leader, Chancellor turned that chance into a Pro Bowl career, a new contract, and in a house for his mom, the best surprise yet.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.