Milloy embraces new role as mentor

RENTON — In May of 1989, Lawyer Milloy was a freshman at Tacoma’s Lincoln High School, a burgeoning multi-sport star just beginning to tap into the athletic potential that would eventually lead him to an All-American career at Washington and Pro-Bowl honors in the NFL.

Also in May of 1989, a baby named Earl Thomas III was born to Earl and Debbie Thomas in Orange, Texas.

And in May of 2010, Milloy and Thomas stood on a Seahawks practice field, separated in the secondary by a few yards, 151/2 years, and a world of football experience.

It was a funny thing this weekend, seeing the Seahawks youngest player and their second oldest share a defensive backfield, and Seattle is hoping the presence of the almost 21-year-old and a 36-year-old can lead to an improved defense in 2010. The Seahawks also hope Thomas, the 14th-pick of last month’s draft, will learn a few things from Milloy.

Before this week’s minicamp, it was unclear whether or not Milloy would even attempt to come back for another season. He is already a four-time Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl champion, and by playing for the Seahawks last season, he got a chance to play in his hometown, so why bother coming back?

But the former Husky felt like he still has some good football left in him, so he signed a one-year contract before the Seahawks’ post-draft minicamp started Friday, and began preparation for his 15th NFL season.

Milloy said the decision to come back for another year wasn’t all that difficult. And he still believes he can be more to this team than just a mentor for Thomas.

“If I wasn’t capable of competing at a high level, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “I still have a passion for the sport, and I really believe in this organization and the coaching staff they brought in. My decision was made a lot easier when I saw what happened in the offseason — the type of guys they brought in and all of that. I think this is going to be a very competitive team and I like the competitive atmosphere that they’re creating. Why not get in the mix?”

One might wonder why Milloy, who will be 37 in November, wouldn’t take his time to make that decision. At that age, why not wait until the start of training camp to decide to come back? Why not relax rather than sweat it out in the no-glory world of spring minicamp?

Milloy is coming back, after all, with no guarantees. He didn’t start last season, and despite his impressive resume did most of his work on special teams. “Last year was very humbling for me,” he said.

Certainly a chance to play for Pete Carroll, who he played for in New England, was appealing to Milloy, as is a chance to help young players like Thomas. And if he is going to be a good example, Milloy says, that starts in May, not August.

“I’ll help anybody out that wants help, because when I’m helping them, it keeps me in the game and sometimes I learn also,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been in the league for 15 years, I think I bring that ability to make people around me better. Obviously they invested a lot in (Thomas), but we have a lot of young guys, and the way I do it coming in the first day is to lead by example. Nobody is going to listen if you’re not out there doing it.”

Milloy’s primary objective is still to be an effective safety, but if he can help make Thomas, Kam Chancellor — Seattle’s fifth-round pick — or any of the other members of Seattle’ secondary better, he’s happy to do that too.

“I’ve talked to him all day today and he’s very receptive of the process,” Milloy said after Friday’s practice. “I said, ‘As long as you want me to help you out, I’ll help you out. On the field, off the field, and just becoming a pro.’ I could tell there’s a lot of stuff going on in his mind. I was there 15 years ago, I understand. Every now and then I tell him, ‘Hey, you can smile. It’s OK …’ I want to be an extension of (the coaches).”

During his first practice, Thomas got so excited by being in the NFL that he had to fight the urge to ask players for autographs. The young free safety is immensely talented, but also knows he has a lot of learning ahead of him before he can start accomplishing the things Milloy has in his career. One thing Thomas has learned already, however, is to listen to the old veteran standing next to him on the field.

“It’s a great feeling knowing somebody that’s been in the league for 15 years,” he said. “He kind of took me under his wing. I sit by him in meetings and if I have any questions, that’d be the first person I ask.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog

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