Seattle Seahawks

How Seafair helped former UW fullback Jonathan Amosa get his unlikely chance

Former UW fullback Jonathan Amosa’s head shot back in 2011.
Former UW fullback Jonathan Amosa’s head shot back in 2011. Univ. of Washington

Jonathan Amosa was like a lot of dads on a summer weekend in Seattle.

“I was with my kids. We were going to have a family day. We were driving, on our way to Seward Park,” the 25-year-old Amosa said Saturday, describing the previous weekend.

But the road from his home in the Skyway section of southeast Seattle, leading to the park along Lake Washington, near where he went to high school, Rainier Beach, was blocked. Seattle’s big, annual summer celebration, Seafair, was going on. So he had to turn around the family car.

Instead of being deep inside Seward Park, playing with his kids and perhaps unavailable — or not wanting — to answer his phone, Amosa was driving when the Seahawks called. They asked the former University of Washington fullback to immediately come to the team’s Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton for a tryout. He dropped off his children at home and did just that.

Seattle signed Amosa the next day. Six days later, he was playing a dozen snaps and carrying the ball twice for the Seahawks in Saturday’s preseason win at Kansas City.

“Thank God for Seafair,” Amosa said with a huge grin in the Arrowhead Stadium locker room.

Without it, Amosa would not have been in pads for the first time in three years. Without Seafair, he wouldn’t have been running behind the Seahawks starting offensive line in the first quarter Saturday. He gained a first down on fourth-and-1, one of only five first downs the offense gained against the Chiefs by running the ball.

Suddenly, Amosa is a most unlikely but viable candidate to make the Seahawks roster as a fullback.

“It was just a lot of fun,” Amosa said of his first game since the 2013 preseason, when he was an undrafted rookie for the Green Bay Packers.

He was speaking at a makeshift, corner locker in a small side room of the visitors’ locker room in Kansas City. It’s usually a coaches’ dressing area. But with 90 men currently on their preseason roster, the Seahawks crammed a dozen or so reserve players into that area for the exhibition.

Amosa wouldn’t have minded having to change on the team bus.

“I’m just glad coach gave me the opportunity,” he said. “I tried to make the most of it.”

Amosa was easy to overlook in the Seahawks’ zany comeback — down 16-6 with 4 minutes to go, then 16-9 with 1:07 remaining and the ball at their own 12. Trevone Boykin’s jump-ball pass to fellow undrafted rookie Tanner McEvoy for a touchdown on the final play, and then a two-point conversion run, won the game.

Amosa’s day was easy to lose amid the performances of other rookie free agents such as Tyvis Powell, who took a huge step toward making the Seahawks as a special-teams ace and versatile defensive back.

But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell gave Amosa the ball not once but twice in two snaps, on third and fourth downs late in the first quarter, to extend a drive. The play-calling showed that Seattle still needs a true fullback.

Amosa’s first-down conversion led to the Seahawks’ first score Saturday, a field goal by Steven Hauschka. Instead of giving the ball to tailback Christine Michael, who gained 44 yards on seven, eye-opening carries in the first quarter, Bevell challenged Amosa to get the first down out of an I formation.

He met the challenge — and the Chiefs’ defensive linemen — head on.

Seattle is one of the few NFL teams that still regularly uses a fullback and the I formation: a fullback in front of a tailback directly behind the quarterback. Yet the Seahawks let the contracts of starter Derrick Coleman and thudding No. 2 fullback Will Tukuafu expire in January.

Brandon Cottom, a former tight end at Purdue, was on track to be the new fullback — until an Achilles injury this month forced him onto the season-ending, injured reserve list. Tre Madden was getting a chance at fullback until he, too, went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

The Seahawks have tried college defensive tackles Brandin Bryant and fellow undrafted rookie Taniela Tupou, another former Husky, at fullback since minicamps in May. But Bryant and Tupou are back on defense. Bryant was on the first-team line on Saturday’s first defensive drive, part of a bigger, goal-line package.

It appeared through last week’s training camp practices and roster calculus that Seattle might opt to use one of the four tight ends it may end up keeping to occasionally play fullback for the 15-20 plays per game the team usually uses one. Namely, Brandon Williams, the ex-Oregon Duck.

But then the 5-foot-11, 247-pound Amosa went huge. At least, huge by Seattle’s fullback standards.

The Seahawks almost always use their fullback as a blocker. Bevell giving the ball to a fullback on consecutive plays is as rare as … well, a guy getting a chance to play football for the first time in three years — and for his hometown team, to boot — because of a Seafair roadblock.

Amosa walked on at UW as a linebacker. Then-Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian switched him to fullback in the spring of 2011. He caught a few passes in 2011 and 2012, but UW rarely used a fullback in its spread sets.

Undrafted, Amosa signed with the Packers in May 2013. He caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from former Tennessee Titans starter Vince Young in a preseason game, but Green Bay released Amosa at the end of August 2013.

Why did the Seahawks call him, even though he hadn’t played since, yes, the long-gone Young was still in the NFL?

“A friend of mine knows a (Seahawks) scout, and I think that’s how they knew me,” Amosa said.

After he impressed the team in his tryout at Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Amosa caught another bit of luck.

Instead of having to go directly into full pads for a hard-hitting practice on his first day, he got to ease into his new gig. The Seahawks had a lighter, no-pads practice that lasted only 75 minutes, instead of the usual two hours. That’s because the next day, Aug. 7, the team had a simulated-game scrimmage in full pads.

“That was good, to get back into it,” Amosa said. “That scrimmage was my first time putting on pads in three years.

“Now, I’m getting advice from Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor about how to hit, and how to take on defenders trying to hit me. Those are two of the best, hardest hitters in the game. It’s been so great to learn from them.

“I would drive past the VMAC every day, thinking, ‘I wish I’d get a chance.’

“I’m just blessed. I thank God for this chance.”

Him. And Seafair.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle