The Seahawks’ roster is filled with players whose stories of overcoming the odds will live in franchise lore.
Russell Wilson, the too-short quarterback who rose to the top. Doug Baldwin, the undrafted receiver who last year did things previously accomplished only by Hall of Famers.
Bradley Sowell’s lasting imprint on the Seahawks is to be determined.
But the route he took to reach his current standing with the team – starting left tackle, generally considered as vital as any offensive-line position – features its share of twists and turns.
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It’s a story Sowell shared last week with an unsuspecting and highly appreciative audience – the middle- and high-school football teams at Viewpoint School in Calabasas, Calif., about 45 minutes north of Los Angeles.
A friend of Sowell’s has a son on the middle-school team, and Sowell – visiting during Seattle’s bye week – decided to accompany him to a practice.
“I honestly didn’t know until about five minutes before practice he was going to be there,” Viewpoint coach Christopher Adamson said. “It was a pretty spontaneous thing.”
Sowell then spent almost three hours with the two teams (the K-12 school has about 250 students in its middle school and about 550 in high school), showing the linemen how to get down in a stance, explaining the concept of zone blocking and whatever else came to mind.
But Adamson said the highlight was a speech Sowell delivered to both teams.
“He just kind of told his story of being an undrafted free agent, being an underdog and how he fought through the odds and through adversity and kept working and kept believing, and now he is the starting left tackle for one of the best teams in the NFL after fighting through all that,” Adamson said. “The message definitely resonated with our kids.”
The story Sowell told began with his upbringing in Hernando, Miss., (population 14,090) as one of five boys in a household he said “lived paycheck to paycheck. I was happy then. It wasn’t a big deal. But we didn’t have a whole lot growing up, so we had to fight for everything we had.”
The Sowell boys were big, though, and Bradley was listed at 6 foot 7 and 350 pounds as a junior in high school. He received some college attention but was considered a two-star recruit by Scout.com and committed to the first major school that gave him an offer – Mississippi, located about an hour away.
In a scene recounted in the book “Meat Market,” then-Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron made the offer in part after watching film of Sowell in a spring practice blocking drill. (Orgeron marveled at Sowell’s size, but the book, published in 2007, referred to Sowell as “a long-range project.”)
After becoming a three-year starter at Ole Miss, Sowell went undrafted in 2012 and was released by his first NFL team – Tampa Bay. Released a year later by the Colts after playing as a reserve, he landed a starting job at left tackle with Arizona in 2013, only to lose it the next year when the Cardinals signed free agent Jared Veldheer. Sowell barely played his last two seasons with Arizona.
That led Sowell to take a leap as a free agent in March and sign with the Seahawks for the chance to compete for the left tackle job that opened when Russell Okung signed with Denver.
Not that most observers figured he’d get the job. Sowell’s one-year, $1 million contract included just $200,000 guaranteed, and little guarantee of anything else.
But when J’Marcus Webb was injured and Garry Gilliam proved rusty after missing much of the offseason due to surgery to remove a cyst on his knee, Sowell became the starter at left tackle early in training camp and has held the job through four games.
“Bradley Sowell has come through,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last week. “We didn’t know at the time. We didn’t know that was going to work out. He’s been coming through and is doing all right.”
Sowell already has learned tough lessons about life in the here-today, gone-tomorrow NFL, so he knows all that matters is what happens next.
But the chance to talk to some young players who hold the same dream he did not so long ago also gave Sowell a moment to reflect.
“You don’t realize how complex our level is until you go (and do something like that),” he said. “They play football at that level at the purest form – it’s literally like so simple. And they are doing it for fun and because they love to play the game.”