Enjoying it while they can

RENTON — His first two weeks of Seattle Seahawks training camp included countless hours of meeting time, two-a-day practices, 14-hour workdays and more than a few eruptions from the volcano known as Mike Holmgren.

And yet, there is no place that Dallas Sartz would rather be.

The Seahawks’ newest linebacker has seen the other side of football — that is, the one where football is not an option. And so Sartz, much like a trio of other players trying to survive the first cut on Seattle’s roster, appreciates his job like most others cannot.

“It’s good to be back out there,” he said on a beautiful Friday afternoon at the team’s new Renton facility. “Everyone’s so much fun. It’s great to be back in this atmosphere.”

Sartz, punter Reggie Hodges, long snapper Tim Lindsey and center Ben Claxton are among the players who are soaking up every second of football they can. While many of their current teammates might take the game for granted, this Seahawks foursome knows what it is like to have football taken away.

“It makes you appreciate the opportunity, and the opportunities you’ve had,” said Claxton, a 28-year-old center who got cut by the Oakland Raiders last September and spent 11 months watching from afar. “To get back into it makes it all that more special and important to you.”

Like three of his teammates, Claxton has had to consider the possibility of life without football. He got cut by the Raiders last September and spent most of the 2007 season working out while paying the bills by managing a variety of financial investments.

Having gone unsigned while 32 NFL teams opened training camp late last month, Claxton started the process of moving on with his life. The Georgia native started packing his things and was a week away from moving to Mississippi, where he planned to take the LSAT and eventually attend law school, when the New England Patriots called and offered a tryout.

While that opportunity did not result in a contract, the injury-depleted Seahawks called a couple days later and gave him a shot.

“You get it set in your mind that you’re already on this path in life, and then all of a sudden this whole (football) thing comes up again,” he said on Friday. “It didn’t take but maybe a minute or two for me to say, ‘Well, shoot, this is what I’ve been asking for.’ (The decision to come back) wasn’t hard.”

Lindsey was in a similar position, having started working as a trainer at a workout facility called High Intensity Training Center in Morgantown, WV. He had come to terms with the possibility of never playing football again, but when the Seahawks called earlier this month because rookie snapper Tyler Schmitt had a sore back, Lindsey jumped at the opportunity.

He canceled his honeymoon an hour into the vacation and headed from a Destin, Fla., resort to Seattle’s training camp.

Despite his time away from the game, the long snapper said he never really gave up on his dream.

“I never have, and probably never will until I have to,” said Lindsey, who is essentially holding down the duties until Schmitt’s back heals.

Hodges never let his dream die, either, even though he’d already been cut by three NFL teams.

A sixth-round St. Louis Rams draft pick in 2005, Hodges played for the Rams and Philadelphia Eagles that season but hasn’t played a regular-season game since. He spent last season selling cars at a Dodge dealership in Fort Wayne, Ind.

When the Seahawks called last spring, the 26-year-old Hodges put that on hold to give football another shot.

“This is a dream of mine, so you have to make sacrifices,” said Hodges, who went to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 and 2007. “That’s all a part of it. I’m glad I have an understanding wife, and a patient wife. That’s what allows me to do this.”

Then there is Sartz, who never took an offseason job because he knew he would be back in the league. He says a hamstring injury was the impetus behind his release from the Washington Redskins last summer, and he spent most of the 2007 season rehabilitating the injury.

Sartz had a brief stint with the Minnesota Vikings last spring, but when 2007 training camps opened in late July, he was still out of a job.

“It was nerve-wracking,” said Sartz, who was selected by the Redskins in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft. “You’re waiting for something to happen, hoping that someone will call. You feel like you don’t have any control over the situation.”

When rookie linebackers Matt Castelo and Eric Wicks suffered injuries, the Seahawks turned to Sartz. Now he’s trying to keep his dream alive and not worrying about the future.

“There are a couple roads I’d like to go down,” he said when asked what he plans to do after football, “but as of right now I’m not 100 percent positive. I’m just concentrating on this, and we’ll see what follows.”

One career path Sartz will not follow is that of a hydroplane racer. His grandfather of the same name — the original Dallas Sartz grew up in Everett — used to race boats in Seattle and was involved in a horrific crash that forced him into retirement.

“He shattered every bone in his body,” said Sartz, a 25-year-old linebacker from USC.

For at least a few more days, none of the 81 players currently on the Seahawks’ roster will have to worry about the future. For now, they have one more opportunity to earn the coaches’ respect before the team has to trim five players from the roster next Tuesday.

“It’s one of those things I used to obsess about a lot,” Claxton said of the first cut, which comes one day after a preseason game at San Diego. “But now I realize that there’s only so much you can control. You try to control what you can, and the rest of it’s out of your hands.”

The 25-year-old Lindsey has already been released twice in his career — by the Atlanta Falcons last preseason and by the Seahawks in the spring — so the looming cut has him on pins and needles.

“Your mind runs in a couple different directions,” he said. “But we have another game coming up, and I still have a chance to show the coaches what I can do.”

And as for Hodges, he’s not even thinking about life after football.

“I’m only 26,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know (about a future career path) just yet.

“I have no idea. I’ll figure something out.”

Hodges and his teammates aren’t in any hurry to move on.

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