RENTON — Even when he was playing under the dim lights of Division II college football, even when he was cleaning campus buildings as a work study job, Jordan Babineaux believed this day would come.
Babineaux came to Seattle as an undrafted rookie out of D-II Southern Arkansas five years ago (Quick, name the Southern Arkansas mascot? Anybody come up with Muleriders? Didn’t think so).
He came into the league carrying the dreaded label of tweener: not quite fast enough to be a cornerback, not quite big enough to play safety. But Babineaux stuck with the Seahawks, first as a special teams player and later as a backup and occasional starter in the secondary.
Now, for the first time in his NFL career, Babineaux will open the season as part of the team’s No. 1 defense. After the Seahawks finished last season with the league’s worst-ranked pass defense, they decided that a change needed to be made. Babineaux, known for his knack for making big plays, was promoted to starting free safety, and Brian Russell, last year’s starter, was released.
“We just felt as an organization, and it was a consensus, that Jordan Babineaux was a guy that we wanted to have on the field on an every-down basis, because we believe that he can make plays on the football,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “I think we all recognize the fact that we need more plays to be made by our safeties. That is a position that we haven’t had a lot of play-making production out of … He’s just one of those guys that finds the ball or the ball finds him. We felt we needed to add that element to our secondary. So that made the decision what it was.”
Mora said the team let Russell go so the veteran could pursue other starting jobs rather than ask him to take a reserve role. The Seahawks coach was also clear that Babineaux is his starter, and that the newly signed Lawyer Milloy, a four-time Pro Bowler earlier in his career, was brought in to be a backup.
“He’s a backup,” he said. “Jordan and Deon (Grant) are our starters … He’s only going to play if there’s a special package or an unforeseen injury.”
And despite his unlikely path to a starting job in the NFL, Babineaux always believed that his time would come.
“I did,” he said. “As wild as it may sound … I really was just trying to get in someone’s camp. That was my biggest concern. I felt like if I could get into someone’s camp then the rest was on me. I felt as confident in making the team as if I was a first or second-round draft pick.”
In his second season with the Seahawks, Babineaux earned the nickname Big Play Babs as he helped the Seahawks win a couple of games with big plays during Seattle’s Super Bowl season.
Babineaux said former Seahawks linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski gave him the name, though Lofa Tatupu jokes that “it was a self-proclaimed nickname.”
Regardless of who came up with the moniker, it stuck.
“I love it man,” he said. “But with that comes a lot of responsibility, so I’ve got to be that guy. I want to be that guy … It just kind of caught on and guys ran with it. I love it, it’s a compliment.”
Teammates joke that they had to revoke the nickname in 2006 when Babineaux wasn’t making as many plays. He earned it back in the playoffs, however, chasing down Tony Romo for a game-saving tackle after the Dallas quarterback botched a hold on a field-goal attempt and was running for the end zone.
Babineaux said that play is met with mixed reactions in his home town of Port Arthur, Texas, which is full of Babineaux fans who also happen to be big Cowboys fans.
“They talk about that more than they ask how I’m doing,” he said. “You know Texas, that’s their heart right there. Most everyone’s a Cowboys fan in that part of the country. It’s like a bitter-sweet feeling for them. They love me for it and hate me for it.”
Babineaux said his big-play ability isn’t something he developed consciously, but rather that it is the product of a childhood playing football in Texas.
“In high school, Pop Warner, we played get to that ball,” he said. “Texas football is the best football you can play in the world. Make sure you quote me on that. It’s better than California and Florida. We used to compete back in high school: who could get to the ball, make the most plays. It was fun for us, so being around the ball is just natural. It’s not even a thought. It’s not like I’m scared of success or anything. I want to make that play, I’m ready to make that play.”
Big Play Babs is ready to make plays, he’ll have plenty of chances now that he’s in the starting lineup. He had better make those plays, however, or he could lose his nickname again.
“If he’s going to be Big Play Babs, we’ve got to be hard on him,” Grant said. “He was just Jordan. If he’s not making plays or he’s messing up, he’s Jordan. He better make plays. He’s with the first team now, so he better. He don’t got no choice.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog