At some point, little Kaleigh Rose Thomas will start learning lessons in the famed Thomas family work ethic.
She’ll hear how her father, Earl, worked as a kid to help the family through hard times, studied hard to make the honor roll, and learned the piano and organ so he could play at the church of her great grandfather, pastor Earl Thomas.
People will tell her how her father’s diligence on the football field allowed him to turn professional early so he could come to the aid of his family. Having lost their home when Hurricane Rita swept through east Texas in 2005, the family lived for a year crammed into a room at a Super 8 hotel.
And, of course, she’ll learn how her dad was on the job the night she was born, Sept. 24, 2012 – a memorable Monday night in Seattle.
She arrived at about halftime of the Seahawks-Green Bay game. Before she was an hour old, her dad knifed in from the secondary to force a fumble that helped ruin the Packers’ final possession and set up a punt in Seattle’s dramatic 14-12 win at CenturyLink Field.
Thomas raced to the hospital, too late for the delivery. “I got to hold her for the first time,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
But to miss the birth because of a football game?
“Everybody knows I wanted to be there, but I was focused because I feel like I’m playing for more than myself,” Thomas said. “I’m playing for my family playing to keep food on the table playing for my daughter.”
It’s stunning to remember that Thomas joined the Seahawks at age 20, after his redshirt sophomore season at Texas. With three years of NFL experience, he’s still just 23, younger than Seahawks rookies Russell Wilson and Bruce Irvin.
And with two Pro Bowl selections and one All-Pro honor in those three seasons, his fast start matches that of the franchise gold standard – seek-and-destroy safety Kenny Easley.
Thomas had an important interception of quarterback Robert Griffin III in last week’s wild-card playoff win over Washington, and he’ll again be a key factor for the Seahawks as they try to slow the Falcons’ highly rated pass offense in today’s NFC divisional game in Atlanta.
Thomas is part of the Seahawks’ dawn patrol of film studiers, taking apart opponents’ films, putting in the work to find an edge.
“It started with my dad, in simple ways, making me get out and cut grass to try to help get money for the family because we weren’t that well off, getting up every morning and going to work,” he said. “Now it’s wanting to find more and more and more about the game; I just love it so much. You study hard during the week, then you’re going to grade out high every time on Sundays.”
It doesn’t go unnoticed among his bosses and peers.
“He’s really determined to play well,” coach Pete Carroll said of Thomas. “He’s a guy who really works at his game that’s very, very important to him. He applies himself in a professional manner.”
The positive response is meaningful to Thomas, but the motivation is mostly internal.
“I always expect great things from myself because that’s how I was brought up. But it’s an honor and a blessing to have people around me who respect and appreciate how I play,” Thomas said at his locker last week.
“That makes me feel great because I put a lot into my craft and I try to perfect it and definitely want to be the best in the league. That’s why I keep working so hard at it.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman lists Thomas as “one of the most studious” on the team but also among the most physically gifted. “His speed and athleticism are something you can’t train, you can’t teach, and that’s what makes him one of the best.”
Teammates who practice with him every day still haven’t grown accustomed to the turbo-burst of speed Thomas can unleash.
Sherman said: “He’s always a blur.”
Strong safety Kam Chancellor has a better description. “He’s here one second and then, poof, he’s gone,” Chancellor said. “He’s so fast, he’s like the Tasmanian Devil – you know when he starts spinning? That’s what Earl’s like.”
The Seahawks often employ Thomas as a center fielder, a last line of defense, because he has the speed to keep everything in front of him. Largely because of Thomas, the Seahawks were second in the NFL last season, and sixth this season, in limiting opponents to “explosive” passing plays of 20 or more yards.
“Last week, he played a lot of deep middle, and that’s where he’s really strong,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “(He has) the ability to cover (sideline to sideline) and he just keeps getting better and better.”
Bradley said the Seattle quarterbacks have told him that in practice there are a number pass routes that would be open against almost any opponent, but are too dangerous against Thomas because of his speed and range.
Thomas has shared a big stage with Falcons receiver Julio Jones before: The two met in the BCS championship game after the 2009 season. Before it, Jones said that Thomas looked like one of the fastest defensive backs he’d ever seen. Jones caught only one pass for 23 yards in that game, but his Alabama team won.
Although Thomas’ regular-season interception totals have dropped from a high of five as a rookie to a cumulative five in the past two seasons, both Carroll and Bradley think Thomas is still on the rise.
“I think his game is really the best it’s been, the most consistent,” Carroll said. “He’s really on it; it’s pretty hard to get the ball downfield with him back there.”
Chancellor admires that in his friend and teammate every day.
“He’s really focused,” Chancellor said. “He feels blessed to have a child born healthy, another life brought to earth. It only drives him more.”
Is that possible?
“I’m working to make her proud,” Thomas said of his new daughter. “It’s more fuel for the fire.”Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com @DaveBoling