Former Deacons Make Seattle Seahawks 'Wake Forest West'
June 19, 2009
By Rob Daniels
RENTON, Wash. - John Tereshinski needed a place to live in suburban Seattle, and Steve Vallos needed a tenant. Again. Then came the NFL Draft, and a gregarious fellow named Aaron Curry joined the scene.
What was this? Wake Forest West?
As great migrations go, the spawning of a Demon Deacon football colony in the Pacific Northwest doesn't compare with the university's 100-mile westward trek from Wake to Forsyth Counties a half-century ago. But the program's growth is still underscored when alumni are trading Winston Lake for Lake Washington and sociology textbooks for Seahawks playbooks.
"It's exciting," Vallos said. "It's amazing how many people are moving on now. It's amazing how quickly it has come on. To see how many of those good guys who were freshmen and now they're (NFL) rookies, it's crazy."
As training camp looms, Wake's presence in the NFL -- 18 strong -- is at an all-time high, and nobody in the league has more Demon Deacons than the Seahawks. Yeah, it's the most remote site in the league, but it's got more in common with the trio's college home than you might imagine.
Wake Forest football has been identified with community service for decades, its contributions ranging from holiday cheer in the Triad to an orphanage and school in Liberia, which players Zac Selmon and Jeremy Thompson helped construct in the summer of 2006. Every team in the NFL highlights its affiliation with its environs, but few go to the length of the Seahawks.
The franchise withstood a legal challenge from Texas A&M University to retain the trademark rights to its "12th Man" campaign, which honors the vocal support of the home crowd as an ancillary team member. A flag reading simply "12" stands next to the practice fields. A sign in the main lobby of the team headquarters says the 12th Man is the bottom-line focus of the organization's efforts. The building's address is 12 Seahawks Way.
In early June, the 81 players on the roster visited Fort Lewis, a U.S. Army installation 35 miles south of Qwest Field, the club's home stadium.
The 2006-07 season is another point of convergence. As the Deacs were preparing for the Orange Bowl after their first ACC title since 1970, the Seahawks were starting a playoff run that led to their first conference championship and Super Bowl appearance.
Both organizations opened new facilities in the aftermath of those successes.
Wake's newest tangible bragging point is Deacon Tower, the $45 million upgrade to BB&T Field that made its debut last season.
The Seahawks' jewel is the Virginia Mason Athletic Complex, a year-old, $60 million practice facility eight miles northwest of Qwest. It's an ultra-modern den befitting the high-tech thought process of Microsoft majordomo Paul Allen, the Seahawks' principal owner, and the tranquility of its setting is a potential distraction. The team's second practice field is immediately adjacent to Lake Washington; Mercer Island, the ritzy enclave between Seattle's Rainier Beach neighborhood and the eastside suburbs of Renton, Bellevue and Kirkland, is 1,200 yards away.
"You kinda get a little jealous when you see the boats go by and the people waving," Tereshinski said.
The jealousy is as brief as the schedule is relentless. Contrary to common presumption, the work starts in March -- long before the first day of training camp and even longer before the first real competitive snap.
Vallos was taken 232nd out of 255 draftees in 2007 and spent the entire year on the Seattle practice squad, but his patience was ultimately rewarded. He earned a full roster spot and five starts last season and is the longest tenured of the ex-Deacs on the team, but he's far from complacent. Before he was drafted, he was advised to learn center in addition to the guard spot he capably manned for the Demon Deacons. NFL teams dress as few as seven offensive linemen per game, a fact that compels the youngest of the lot to diversify their skills sets.
"Until you're the starter," Seattle line coach Mike Solari said, "you need to develop consistency in technique in order to have that versatility."
Although the Seahawks finished 4-12 a year ago, they liked enough of Vallos to keep him around.
"You can see the difference and the confidence in the Steve Vallos of 2009 vs. 2008," Solari said. "Now that he has started, he feels a lot more comfortable in leading the offense."
Tereshinski, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound tight end, enjoyed a breakout season as a senior in 2007 for the Deacs. His personal highlight was among the biggest moments of the year -- a game-tying catch against Maryland with one second left in regulation. Wake, which trailed 24-3 late in the third quarter, ultimately won in overtime.
Tereshinski signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in the spring of '08 and survived most of training camp before being released on Aug. 27. While he didn't earn full-time employment in the league, he remained visible enough to merit a tryout from the Denver Broncos in November, and he agreed to terms with the Seahawks between Christmas and New Year's for 2009. He arrived with the rest of the nominal veterans in March and was pleased to learn Vallos, his Wake roommate, was on the squad. Vallos, who had been bouncing between apartments along Interstate 405, welcomed Tereshinski into his abode just down the lake from the office.
He'll enter training camp, which begins Aug. 1, as one of three competitors for the third and final tight end gig.
"I'm doing everything I can do for myself," he said. "We haven't put much emphasis on what the situation is, and that's how I like it. Whatever happens is going to happen. As long as I give it my best, I'll be happy with the outcome."
Curry, winner of the Butkus Award as the college game's top linebacker in 2008, became the most discussed NFL prospect in Wake history. Multiple analysts considered him the top player in the draft, and if the Detroit Lions hadn't needed a quarterback, he might have gone No. 1 overall. He happily settled for the fourth spot when the Seahawks called his name.
Jim Mora, the team's new coach, dispatched linebackers coach Zerick Rollins to Winston-Salem in March for one-on-one evaluation of a player who entered Wake as a 195-pound unknown and grew into an unmistakable presence.
"I can't tell them to draft him; I can only give them my opinion," Rollins said. "And I felt he was a good person. From watching his film, I knew he was a good football player. The thing is that he has a big upside, and as a coach, that's a delight."
Curry, who finalized his degree requirements in December, had a busy spring ahead of him. On Monday, May 18, he participated in graduation ceremonies on campus. Then he packed for a cross-country trip and a mini-camp.
"That was a long week." Curry said. "I got here Tuesday morning and had practice that day. I was fresh off the plane and straight into my helmet and jersey. But it was worth it."
In early June, various reports suggested Curry and the team were close to an agreement worth up to $30 million in guaranteed cash. Does that qualify as "worth it"?
Curry's draft position is inevitably accompanied by the presumption he'll make an immediate impact. He can handle that.
After all, he's got some friends to help him.