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Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Les Carpenter / Times staff columnist
Seahawks LB White quickly drawing attention


Tracy White may be close to starting for the Hawks.
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This story is picking up speed, flying to the top of the Seahawks' summer like the player who has startled them all. General manager Bob Ferguson ducked into a shady spot after a practice yesterday and confirmed the unbelievable.

"Yes, he's that fast," Ferguson said dropping a pair of sunglasses to the end of his nose to add effect. "Ohhhh yes, he's that fast."

In the whirlwind shuffle of training-camp roster spots, Tracy White's name never came far off the floor. He wasn't drafted, wasn't wanted and stuck around on the bottom of the Seahawks roster last year mostly because they liked the way he ran down the field on kickoffs. He might have been forgotten completely were it not for a cold, windy day in Cheney last week when a bone cracked in Chad Brown's left leg and suddenly the Seahawks were desperate to find somebody who could play outside linebacker.

Then it was impossible to miss Tracy White.

He ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. And if you find it impossible to believe a linebacker could run so fast, he has witnesses. It came on a spring day in 2003 on the artificial field behind Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va. And just to prove this wasn't a fluke, he went to the slower grass fields at Howard University, where he played in college, and ran a 4.4.

Linebackers don't do this. Linebackers are the hulking men in the middle of the defense who hunch their shoulders and clamp their arms in front of them in a constant grabbing motion. They look like giant crabs in football jerseys. They are made to hit. And while they are fast, they do not run like this. They do not run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. Only the fastest, smallest people on a football field run 4.3s.

All at once, Brown's injury looks a little more bearable.

"I know I can run them down," White said yesterday. He was talking about running backs and wide receivers. "I know I can do it, especially if I have a good angle."

Then he smiled.
 
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"I make all my tackles," he added. "You know, I don't think I've missed a tackle all training camp."

He ducked his head and laughed.

"Now I don't want to jinx myself ... " he said, letting the thought drift off.

A week ago, the gloom loomed over the practice fields as Chad Brown was carried off on a cart. While no one said the hopes and dreams for this season had been delivered a deadly blow, the silence that filled the morning said volumes. The only logical replacement was a slow-but-feisty Harvard graduate named Isaiah Kacyvenski, who is fun to watch on special teams but has been overmatched in previous runs as a starting linebacker.

That's when they started paying more attention to Tracy White. He has worked with the starters more and more the last few days, and while Kacyvenski might start Thursday's final exhibition game, there is a sense that White is a few tackles away from opening the season in the starting lineup.

He never believed he could run. Not like this. It took the track coach at Timberland High School in Spartanburg, S.C., to convince him he could be something big. When he finally agreed to go out for the team his junior year, he was shocked at how swift he could be. Soon he was the fastest man in the lower half of South Carolina.

Maybe he could have kept going, turning his times in the 100 meters and 200 meters into a college track career. But he loved the hitting more. He loved the rush you get on a football field when you drop your shoulder into another man's chest and feel the ground racing up to meet the collision. Yes, he loved football more.

They should know, on the Seahawks, that he's been in fights before. No one ever believed he was a linebacker, not with his speed or his wiry body that looks much smaller than the 6 feet, 230 pounds the team says he is. People assume he's a cornerback. They wonder what he's doing trying to break into a starting lineup in the NFL at a position that breaks much bigger men down.

Maybe this is what the fraternity brother at Howard assumed five years ago when White arrived on campus. The other man, a senior, had a hold on the starting weakside linebacker job, but that lasted a matter of days. White went on to start every game his four years at Howard.

There are some stories that do have happy endings. The defensive philosophy has changed around the Seahawks the last couple years. More and more the coaches look for young players who are fast, who can be turned loose to run and hit with all the vigor of youth.

Last year they found this in Ken Hamlin and Marcus Trufant.

Perhaps now they have it again in the Seahawks' story of the summer.

Les Carpenter: 206-464-2280 or lcarpenter@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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