What did the Seahawks lose when defensive tackle Brandon Mebane went on the injured-reserve list Tuesday with a torn hamstring, ending his season?
The inherently overlooked, eight-year veteran does more for Seattle than devour two blockers while simultaneously smacking into a center on every play each Sunday.
He does more than stuff running lanes and free his linebackers to make tackles. He does more than sing self-deprecating songs in the locker room, like this one he bellowed Oct. 8 when I and other writers approached his locker before a practice:
“ I’m just a no-body/Tryna’ tell every-body/About some-body.”
Mebane is a somebody. A huge, 311-pound somebody who was having the best season of his career until he tore his hamstring “drastically,” in coach Pete Carroll’s word, last weekend
during the win over the New York Giants.
To Mebane, he became that somebody — who won a scholarship to his state’s flagship University of California at Berkeley and has since earned more than $21 million as a Seahawk — by taking the initiative to learn how to read better in seventh grade.
Mebane struggled behind his peers in below-grade-level reading for years as a child growing up in south Los Angeles, and in his first year at Audubon Middle School just west of L.A’s Memorial Coliseum. Then he discovered the Sylvan reading program, a standardized system his school had acquired when he was in seventh grade. He continued it over that summer and into eighth grade.
The program typically costs north of $200 per assessment, and can run upwards of $50 per hour for tutoring about six hours a week. Costs approaching $10,000 a year aren’t rare in Sylvan.
Leaders at Audubon Middle School in the late 1990s picked Mebane and other classmates they felt could benefit from the reading program to enter it.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ But it was fun,” he said of the reading program.
Turns out, it appealed to the athlete in him.
“It was kind of like a competition with yourself, and the other kids in there, because you were trying to catch up to them to a certain level and they were already at a certain level,” he said. “You do a certain amount of work, you take a test. And if you pass a test you go to another level. It was really fun. I did it my first semester and summer. I enjoyed it, man.
“I really enjoyed it. Oh, man, it made a big difference.”
Not just in reading. In life, as a person.
“My confidence went from zero to 100 (percent), man,” Mebane said. “It was amazing!”
Now that he is no longer able to tackle Seahawks’ opponents because of his torn hamstring, Mebane is turning his attention to tackling literacy issues in his home neighborhood.
“What I really want to do, I want to help kids with Sylvan where I grew up, and in junior high,” Mebane said last month inside the Seahawks’ locker room at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “I want to sponsor kids. I’m going to try to start up in November, to try to get it going.”
He already has laid the ground work. Last month Mebane talked to the assistant principal at Audubon, who like Mebane graduated from nearby Crenshaw High School. The assistant principal’s father was Mebane’s coach at Crenshaw. There Mebane, empowered and confident with his new reading skills, became a Prep Star high school All-American and got that full ride to Cal.
In his mind, he owes Audubon Middle School for more than just empowerment through reading. After all, his wife went to the school.
King County deputy prosecuting attorney Amena Jefferson Mebane was a classmate of Brandon at Audubon before she became a member of the Cal Dance Team, while Mebane was playing for the Golden Bears. They reconnected years later when Mebane saw her out with friends at a restaurant in Seattle, when Jefferson was in her second year of law school at the University of Washington.
The understated Mebane doesn’t broadcast it here in Washington, but since becoming a Seahawk in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft he has put on football camps at Audubon Middle School. Those summer camps have included SAT preparation programs for South L.A. kids of all ages through high school.
“That’s what I really want to do, to help kids with reading because what I found out growing up was the key in reading was repetition,” he said. “The more and more repetitions I got with it, the more comfortable I got with it.
“If you are able to read, you can do anything. You have options.”
Mebane said Sylvan at the time was too expensive for his parents Walter (now retired from the U.S. Postal Service) and Joyce (who worked at the global security company Northrup Grumman in Los Angeles).
Now that he’s in the next-to-last year of a $25 million, five-year contract, money is not an issue for him to provide the same reading support to Audubon that it gave him.
“So whoever brought that to my middle school,” Mebane said, “I really appreciate it.”
You can read more about Mebane, and the man who is about to take his nose-tackle role over the center starting Sunday in Kansas City, five-time All-Pro Kevin Williams, here and in today's News Tribune.
--Here's some of what Richard Sherman said yesterday, a rather tame session by the All-Pro cornerback's often out-spoken standards. Though during my second question you can see him chide a reporter for allowing his phone to sound:
And here's a transcript of what Sherman said, including and beyond the video:
CB Richard Sherman
November 12, 2014
(On next man up mentality) It’s always been that way since I came here and since we’ve been playing. It’s always been next man up anytime somebody gets hurt. It’s next man up and the next man has to be ready to go and ready to fill the role and exceed the role.
(On the loss of Brandon Mebane) It’s concerning in the form of—you never want to lose a teammate. You never want to lose a guy of his caliber—he’s a great person, great individual, great player and we’re sorry for his loss and it sucks because of the kind of person that he is, but I think we’ll find ways to play hard and make up for it.
(On how impressed is he with Kansas City Chiefs S Ron Parker) I’m very impressed, but we’ve seen him do it time after time. Ron has been a great player for a while. Here—he made a lot of big plays, he was a contributor on special teams, and to see him get his opportunity to shine and go out there and actually play football, make plays, and start—we’re excited for him. We’re real excited for him because he’s still part of the L.O.B [Legion of Boom]. He’s a guy that played with us and we still have a lot of guys out there—we still got Brandon Browner out there. We still got a lot of guys who play good football and we’re happy to see them thrive.
(On his feelings to see all the guys that are out there from the LOB last year) It’s incredible—in my time here, we’ve seen a lot of guys and a lot of them are still starting in this league and I think that’s a testament to the development and the talent that we have and also to the kind of work ethic and talent that those guys have and everything that they were able to do. All of them come from pretty tough spots—Ron Parker was undrafted and played safety then had to move to corner and had a back and forth career up until that point. Then it end up coming in handy at Kansas City because he’s been able to play both and he’s been able to stay on the field and that’s exciting.
(On defensive backs’ coaches) I think they just bring the best out of you. They force you to use the best of your abilities—if you do a certain thing well, they want to see you do that thing well, they want to continue to see you do that well. They don’t try to coach you to do something that you don’t do well. A lot of coaches try to box guys in and teach them all the exact same way, the exact same technique, ‘you do this,’ whether they do it well or not and I think these guys allow a little bit more leeway—a little bit more freedom to play to your strengths.
(On Kansas City’s offense) Well that have some explosive athletes—obviously De’Anthony Thomas and Jamaal Charles can go the distance at any time. I think that’s what they play to—[Travis] Kelce is leading the league in YAC [Yards after the catch] and they just get the guys the ball quickly in space and they do something with it. I think they trust their guys to make plays, and they trust them to get yards after the catch and that’s how they run their offense effectively.
(On Alex Smith being different than he was with the 49ers) No—I think he’s the same quarterback that he was his last couple years. He’s very efficient with the ball, he’s not going to take a lot of huge shots, he’s not going to take a lot of huge risks but he’s going to move the ball down field. He’s going to get his first downs and he’s going to keep the clock moving and I think he’s still doing a great job of that.
(On how he analyzes himself in a game) At the end of the day, you look at wins and losses. You look at how the defense is playing; you look at how many explosive [plays] the team has given up. I think guys have always wondered—the game is about touchdowns, you want to see how many touchdowns a guy has given up. You can really tell what kind of season he’s having and if he’s given up eight or nine touchdowns, I guarantee you he’s not having a great season whether he has ten picks or not. You have ten picks and ten touchdowns scored on you, it’s still give and take there.
(On playing in cold weather) Well, Seattle’s been pretty cold these last couple years so I think I’ve gotten a little bit more acclimated to the temperature change than when I use to be coming from southern California. I think we played in a forty degree game when I was in high school and we thought that was death. Everyone out there moving like mummies, but I think we’ve become more accustomed to feeling that weather out here. I think it may be below freezing right now or close to it so it is what it is.
(On how they look at the schedule ahead) It’s more indifference—championship opportunity every week. I think the publics and the media’s perception is a lot different than the actual perception of the team and the players. I think we look at every game as a tough game—Kansas City is a tough game. Evert team is an NFL team—they have pros, they have big time players so every game is going to be a tough game and it’s going to be a grind. I don’t think we look at any team as more of a challenge than another team—I think they’re all going to be challenging games and that’s why you take it one game at a time.
(On how the secondary has been this year) It’s been fantastic—guys have been discipline. I think that’s what allowed us to stay in ball games and be in ball games until the last minute. Even in the games we’ve lost, we’re still in the ball game until the last second. The Rams game, you get a ball fall your way, you get the ball fall another way—you lose the ball game but I think that has allowed us to fight through these injuries and continue to play at a high level even though we’ve been banged up. I think we could’ve been easily banged up and lost some of these games against good teams. We have a lot of young guys playing—a lot of guys without of experience so those games could have went either way, but guys have been playing sound football and that’s allowed us to continue to win.
(On him gambling in order to get interceptions) Not really, because if you just continue to play sound football—it will come. Like I’ve said before, they come in bunches. I think going into week twelve or thirteen I might have had two or three, then I got four in two games. It comes in bunches so you don’t really worry about those things. As long as the team is winning and you’re doing your job effectively, that’s all you can worry about—if the picks come, they come.
(On him spending a lot of time checking on the younger guys) I wouldn’t say you’d have to give them more time, you just do your due diligence—you make sure they’re prepared, make sure they know the indicators, what to look for, the tendencies that the offense has, and just making sure they’re prepared. I think that’s our duties as veteran players—to make sure that everyone is prepared, and I think everyone has a hand in that.
(On importance of anticipation as a cornerback) It’s incredibly important. I think the speed of this game and everything that comes with it [the rules], you have to have anticipation, you have to have the ability to read plays and the ability to see things before they happen because if you don’t, it’s going to be a hard day on you.
(On how tough Kam Chancellor has been this season) He’s been really tough—he’s been tough every season. Every season he’s battling injuries—obviously, with the way he plays, it’s with incredible reckless abandon, and he plays the game very violently. So he’s going to have his fair share of injuries, nicks and bangs here and there—he continues to fight through them. He continues to persevere, and he’ll be back out there this week and we appreciate that.