Renton – Two players who cut their teeth on high school football fields in the South Sound are getting a rare opportunity to fulfill their dreams, playing for the team they rooted for as kids growing up in the Pacific Northwest.
South Kitsap High graduate and Port Orchard native Tony Fein is an outside linebacker the Seattle Seahawks signed as a free agent out of the University of Mississippi, who took a circuitous route back to Seattle.
And wide receiver Ben Hannula is a Bellarmine Prep and University of San Diego grad who received an invitation to try out for the Seahawks after not getting selected during last week’s draft.
The pair found themselves roaming the field with the likes of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill – players they watched from their couches before but are now sharing the huddle with.
“It is kind of weird,” Fein said. “Especially being from this area, I know about Leroy Hill and Lofa and Matt Hasselbeck. And just being in meetings with those guys and seeing them it’s like a dream come true.”
At 26 years old, Fein isn’t your average rookie free agent. He played quarterback for South Kitsap High and finished with 800 passing yards and six touchdowns his senior year, graduating in 2001. He joined the Army soon after high school, serving 31/2 years, including a one-year stint in Iraq.
The steady diet of physical training helped Fein fill out his 6-foot-2 frame while in the service, and once out the 245-pounder decided to pursue his dream of playing football. Fein enrolled at Scottsdale Community College, playing middle linebacker there for two years and earning junior college All-American honors.
Fein had enough success there that Ole Miss came calling and offered a scholarship to play football. He earned a starting inside linebacker job for the Rebels, playing behind Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick defensive tackle Peria Jerry and finishing third on the team in tackles his senior season.
Fein said he had offers from other teams but ultimately wanted to return home and play in Seattle. And he said his winding journey to the NFL helped him better appreciate the opportunity the Seahawks gave him. Fein is playing strongside, outside linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 defensive scheme.
“I’ve been around a little bit,” he said. “I’m older than your normal rookie. But the things I’ve got to experience so far I wouldn’t trade it. It’s helped my character a lot, and it’s made me realize that football is what I really want to do. Doing other things and being on the outside world, I just realized how much I miss football and love it, and I’m just going to work that much harder to keep this opportunity.”
Hannula, 23, also played quarterback in high school for Bellarmine Prep, but wound up playing wide receiver and cornerback at the University of San Diego. He totaled 48 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns his senior year, and also finished 4-of-4, throwing the ball for two touchdowns.
“I’m learning a ton,” said Hannula about his experience with the Seahawks. “Just studying the older guys and seeing how they run their routes, and how they set up guys. You can just learn so much.”
At 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, Hannula is quick for his size and can get in and out of cuts well. Hannula said he had some interest from the New York Giants as a possible seventh round pick, but after going undrafted, Seattle was among teams who offered a tryout.
Hannula said his strength is his versatility and athleticism. With his ability to play receiver, quarterback at times cornerback, Hannula could make a good special teams player for an NFL team.
“It’s a dream come true growing up in the Northwest and always watching these guys play,” Hannula said. “It’s a real great privilege to be out here.”
Both Fein and Hannula made occasional plays during the voluntary minicamp where they’ve stood out. And they’ve also struggled at times with the new schemes and playing against elite competition.
Neither is guaranteed to make it to Seattle’s training camp in July, but both have looked like they belong out there.
“The mental part is a lot more,” Fein said of the jump from college to the pros. “The first day we put in like nine or 10 defenses, so I mean the learning curve’s a lot quicker. And you’ve got to either learn or get left behind in the NFL – they ain’t going to wait for you. In college, they’ll kind of cradle you along and baby you. Here, either it’s get it gone or get out.”