Will Dissly had about a dozen family members and friends in Denver last weekend. They came south and east down the Rockies from his hometown of Bozeman, Mont., to see their man play in his first NFL game.
The Dissly crew rented a suite inside Mile High Stadium. Turns out, they got a good deal on Groupon.
It was absolutely the only part of their Sunday that was cut-rate.
Everything else Dissly did was top-shelf in the Seahawks’ season opener against the Broncos.
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In fact, it was the best tight-end debut in NFL history.
The rookie fourth-round draft choice from the University of Washington not only started his first NFL game, he soared. He became the first tight end in league history with at least 100 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in his league debut, according to NFL Network.
His 105 yards also set a team record for receiving yards by a Seahawk in his first game.
He had his coach likening Dissly to Mike Ditka. You know, the Chicago Bears legend who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the best tight ends ever.
And Dissly did it all before halftime.
“He was on fire. He was Ditka. He was like Mike Ditka out there,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said minutes after Seattle lost to Denver 27-24.
One 15-minute period into his first NFL game, Dissly was already the best former Washington Huskies defensive lineman the Seahawks have ever had at tight end.
The former defensive end caught a pass from Russell Wilson early in the game, then rumbled like a downhill truck with no brakes. Three Broncos bounced off of him as he bulldozed 66 yards. Had he not gotten pushed by Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall, forcing one of his large shoes onto the sideline boundary at the 5-yard line, Dissly would have scored his second touchdown of the game on the play. As it was, Dissly moved the ball from the Seahawks’ 29-yard line to the Broncos 5.
During Dissly’s booming romp, Carroll was on the sidelines screaming “Ditka! Ditka!”
“Yeah, that was really fun,” Carroll said this week. “That was really fun to see him come through like that.
“It’s hard to tackle a guy that weighs 270 pounds running down the field.”
Dissly laughed at that, too.
“You can’t slow down, at all,” he said. “When you see green grass, you are pushing pedal to the metal and are trying to go as fast as you can.
“It is kind of funny. You don’t really think. You just are reacting.”
He had already gotten his first NFL touchdown by then, in the first quarter on a 15-yard pass from Wilson one play after Earl Thomas’ interception.
Dissly crossed the goal line and extended both arms as if to declare “Here I am!” As he did, Wilson ran into the end zone to celebrate the score with him—and to ensure he gained possession of the football to take back to the Seahawks’ sideline for his rookie tight end to keep.
What is Dissly going to do with that ball?
“Oh, I’m keeping it,” he said. “I’m putting it in my trophy case, for sure.”
Wilson so immediately trusted Dissly in his first game the franchise QB went back to him in the end zone in the third quarter with Seattle down 17-10. His pass went just beyond Dissly’s out-stretched hands incomplete.
So Dissly came within a foot on the sideline and a couple inches on an overthrown ball from three touchdowns in his first NFL game. That would have been the second-most receiving TDs in a game in Seahawks’ history.
As you may have deduced by now, Dissly is Mr. Opportunity. Whatever the rookie from the University of Washington is supposed to have been throughout his football career, he’s been better.
Dissly wasn’t supposed to be the Seahawks’ lead tight end in last weekend’s opener. It was supposed to be Ed Dickson. Days after Jimmy Graham departed in free agency to Green Bay in March, Seattle signed Dickson from Carolina to a three-year, $10.7-million contract to be its new, number-one tight end.
The following month, the Seahawks drafted Dissly. He was viewed as the best blocking tight end in this year’s class. For years Seattle had tight ends that didn’t and couldn’t block consistently, receivers first Graham and Luke Willson.
So he wasn’t supposed to catch like this, either. But all this summer Dissly impressed Wilson and Seahawks coaches with how well he snags the ball. How soft and skilled his hands are. How he catches the ball away from his body like a wide receiver should.
Meanwhile, Dickson got groin and quadriceps injuries. The veteran missed all of training camp and preseason. Dickson is on the physically-unable-to-perform list, out for at least the first six weeks of the season.
That’s how Dissly and third-year tight end Nick Vannett became Seattle’s top guys at the position, instead of the absent Dickson.
“Obviously, Dissly’s being a rookie, has stepped into our offense in a big, big way,” Wilson said. “He’s done a tremendous job of knowing; he’s extremely knowledgeable. He’s one of the most athletic guys that we have on our team, in terms of all the things that he can do. Just watching him how he’s relaxed and poised just to be great.
“I think he’s going to be a really good tight end for us.”
There is another way Dissly impressed Wilson, the former college and Class-A middle infielder, this preseason.
Wilson spent some of this past offseason with the New York Yankees in their spring training in Florida. Then last month, Wilson and Dissly were the finalists in the Seahawks’ home-run derby the players held to break the monotony of training camp and the preseason. The pitchers were Seahawks staffers such as team chefs and team photographer Rod Mar, among others.
Wilson beat Dissly in the finals.
Weeks later, Dissly seems still stung.
“Didn’t get that ‘dub,’ man,” Dissly said. “I guess he’s a pro for a reason.
“I gave it my best shot. Made it to the finals. I think Austin Davis got drafted by the major leagues (indeed, the Boston Red Sox drafted the Seahawks’ recently-waived backup quarterback in the 31st round in 2012), so I had some pretty tough competition.
“Russ won the whole thing. He was slugging it pretty good.”
Dissly wasn’t so broken up over that loss that it affected his NFL debut.
Graham didn’t have his first 100-yard day for the Seahawks until his sixth game, in 2015. And he was a $40 million man, the NFL’s premier pass-catching tight end when Seattle traded Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round draft pick to New Orleans earlier in 2015 to get him.
Dissly got his 100 yards before he’d played two quarters as a Seahawk, while wearing Graham’s old Seahawks number 88. He’s earning $480,000 this season.
“It was just a cool opportunity to go out there that first game, and to do some special things.” Dissly said. “Russ was awesome, putting the ball right where it needs to be. I just have to make some plays.
“Obviously, we have some work to do going forward. But it was a cool way to start, for sure.”
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t supposed to be a tight end. Certainly not one in the NFL.
He was a sophomore defensive end for Washington late in 2015. He was messing around at a practice for UW’s Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of that season, a big number 98 playfully catching passes from a teammate. Huskies coach Chris Petersen walked past and noticed Dissly was reaching for the ball and pulling it in with more skill than a defensive linemen should have.
“Hey, you want to have a package (of plays on offense)?” Petersen asked Dissly.
That’s how Dissly became a tight end. He parlayed his position switch into an invite to the NFL combine in March, then to the draft, then to the Seahawks. He is the 19th Washington Huskies tight end drafted into the NFL in the last half century. Three Huskies tight ends have been first-round picks: Dave Williams (1967), Mark Bruener (‘95) and Jerramy Stevens (by the Seahawks in 2002).
Heck, Dissly wasn’t even supposed to be at UW.
He was a football defensive end—the 2013 Montana Gatorade player of the year in that sport—plus a freshman baseball slugger, a discus thrower and shot-putter in track and basketball forward at Bozeman High School. He finished second in Montana’s state high school meet is discus and fourth in shot as a junior in 2013. And he was a hockey player before that.
“My parents, they encouraged me to try all different kinds of sports,” he said. “That’s one thing I’m super-excited to encourage young kids to do, to branch out and try different sports. Cross train. Always compete.
“It’s cool that here I am playing in the National Football League, but I’m hitting baseballs on off days. That’s kind of fun.”
Dissly committed to Boise State, after Petersen offered him a football scholarship to join his program there. Then Petersen took the UW job a little over a month before signing day. So Dissly followed Petersen to Montlake.
Now, here he is, squarely in the Seahawks’ game plan again for Monday night at Chicago. A huge key to this game is Seattle being better is keeping Mack and the Bears pass rushers off Wilson than they were keeping the Broncos off him. Denver sacked Wilson six times last weekend. All-Pro Von Miller had three of those. Wilson took blame for three of those six sacks, saying he mistakenly extended plays that were not there with scrambles into Miller and other Broncos.
Monday, just like last week with Miller, Dissly and the Seahawks’ edge blockers will be facing one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers: Bears All-Pro sack man Khalil Mack. Expect more of Dissly and Vannett in two-tight end formations to help offensive tackles Germain Ifedi and Duane Brown by chip blocking, trying to slow down Mack and Chicago’s edge rushers.
If it goes like the rest of Dissly’s remarkable last five months have gone, the Seahawks may be OK.
“We had a cool game-plan for (the Broncos) with some chips off the edge,” Dissly said. “But they were still able to get to the quarterback.
“That is definitely one area we need to clean up.”