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Originally published January 9, 2015 at 9:21 PM | Page modified January 10, 2015 at 12:21 AM

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Go inside Seahawks’ minds 5 minutes before kickoff

One Seahawks player reads the Bible. Many listen to music, soothing for some, amped up for others. Another thinks of his family. All wonder: Is what I have going to be good enough today?


Seattle Times staff reporter

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When J.R. Sweezy enters the locker room for the final time before a game, he leaves this world, the real one, and goes to a place unlike anything he’s experienced outside of football.

Sweezy, the Seahawks’ hyperaggressive offensive lineman, takes a seat at his locker, pads on, and throws headphones over his ears. And then, in the five minutes before players take the field for introductions, he enters a state of mind that evades easy description, other than to label it a “dark place.”

“It’s a place you don’t really want to go sometimes,” he says, “but it’s acceptable in what we do. And it’s almost a good thing.”

What happens in those five minutes — what will happen again Saturday, when the Seahawks play their first playoff game against the Carolina Panthers — is the last bit of soul searching.

The electricity of the crowd, the jarring collisions, the handful of decisive plays await on the other side of the locker-room doors. Inside, there is thumping music and players looking inside themselves, preparing for a violent game and doing whatever it is that helps them come to peace with the question they’re staring down: Is what I have going to be good enough today?

“It’s kind of like when you study hard,” says backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, “and you know you’re about to pass the test.”

In those five minutes, running back Robert Turbin will set goals for himself that day, an informal list he will mentally run through. He will pull out his Bible and take a minute to read a chapter, right there at his locker, as music or a speech plays through his headphones.

“I read because there’s always a lesson in the Bible that you can take,” Turbin says, “and I can take it and translate it onto the field. There’s always something that I’m trying to learn within that five minutes of my time.”

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett will get himself amped for the looming violence, but he will spend most of his time thinking of his family — his wife and three daughters. Before he goes onto the field, the final thing he will do at his locker is take one last look at their picture.

Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse is one of the few players who won’t put on headphones, at least before home games.

He will say a prayer, drink a Gatorade and, occasionally, freestyle rap with receiver Doug Baldwin to whatever song is blasting through the locker room.

“I’m not that guy that’s going to be superserious,” Kearse says. “I can’t be superserious. I care, but my philosophy is that I’ve been playing this game since I was little, so I’m going to keep it fun.”

In those five minutes, safety Kam Chancellor will get “pissed” because he has to wait for kickoff. By that time, he’s already steeled himself for his role — that of the enforcer — and he will be ready to go.

He will look around the room, into the eyes of his teammates, so he can gauge their readiness. He, too, will enter a dark place, and he will take deep breaths to calm himself.

“I just need contact,” Chancellor says. “I’m ready to run into something. I feel electrified and ready to run into some (stuff). I just feel crazy.”

Defensive end Cliff Avril will return to his locker, throw on his headphones and put a towel over his head.

He’ll close his eyes or stare at the ground, and he won’t think about the game because he gets nervous. He’ll fire up the only playlist on his phone — a playlist that features only slow songs — and try to relax.

“Something that just has you thinking,” Avril says, “but thinking the opposite of football at the moment.”

In those five minutes, Sweezy will visualize the game plan, the opposing defense and his domination of the man across from him. He will enter a trance, and he will be so focused that he won’t be aware of what’s around him.

“You’re there,” he says, “but you’re not there mentally.”

He will get up, head through the tunnel and walk onto the field slapping the sides of his helmet, the final revving before the real contact starts and all the questions will finally be answered.

Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or jjenks@seattletimes.com



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