So it was no surprise a couple of weeks ago, before the Seattle Seahawks’ win in Atlanta that Thomas gave the pregame speech that became the prologue to probably the Hawks’ most complete performance since their win over San Francisco in Week Two.
“Think about who you have success with in practice,” Thomas told his teammates in a pregame huddle. “Think about who you go to battle with every day in practice. Think about who you have success with on the field. Look around. These are the guys you see ball-out every day. They see you do what you do. Let’s take that practice mentality to the field.
Thomas saw a problem and he wasn’t going to let it fester.
“When people start playing for each other it elevates the whole team. You’re playing for your brother and if you do your preparation, good things start happening. When you’re playing for your brothers successful ball will start to come no matter what. Tip balls start coming your way. You start making plays that you didn’t know you could make.”
Before the game in Atlanta, just as he is in every practice and team meeting and film session, Thomas was as direct as a straight right hand. He’s always the buzz in the room, a hummingbird who hits; a compact, dynamic, 5-foot-10, 202-pound hummingbird.
He has made himself into one of the best free safeties in football and, now in his fourth season, was the consensus defensive MVP for 2013’s first half. And, just as important, he’s a made himself into a leader.
“Leaders aren’t born to be, ‘Look at me. Look at me,’” Thomas said. “They have to do the dirty work and then they have to listen. You have to know your worth. You have to know how valuable you are to your team. Coach can’t point it out to you. One thing to know about me, I’m going to practice hard every time. I’m going to be the most intense person. I’m going to be into it like it’s always a game situation because then it always transitions over to the game.
“That’s what people don’t understand. In our walk-throughs I’m in a posture like it’s game time. I’m getting my body language right, because it’s always about the little details. Your opportunities are so short in this league and you want to impact every person that you come across. When you’re out here you’ve got to enjoy all of it. It’s got to be about having fun, enjoying your teammates and enjoying the process. I do that.”
Thomas talks fast, like he has places to go and even more people to influence. But listen to him, there’s a wallop in his words.
In 2010, when he was a rookie, Thomas did a lot of chattering on the field. Even in practice some of his give-and-take shout-outs with teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh were like a 21st Century adaptation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Thomas had a way of getting under the skin of even his own receivers.
But off the field he was quiet and uncertain of himself. He was a reluctant interviewee and it was hard work getting him to say how he really felt. He wasn’t comfortable speaking in front of crowds, or in front of teammates.
Thomas knew he had to get better. He had to become a leader, in the locker room and the film room, as much as he needed to lead on the field. And now, when he walks into a room, he changes the environment.
“It’s crazy how much I’ve come out of my box,” Thomas said. “My teammates have noticed. This stuff’s always been inside of me, but I’d never taken the time to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Ok, I need to get better.’ The way I feel is, you can’t stand still. You have to have a vision of yourself, of what you want to be and then you have to work toward that vision. I’m working for the vision. Always.”
There’s something about this Seahawks’ team that is transcendent. Many of the players on this roster have more on their plates than merely football and instead of being distracted by their other interests, they seem to be nourished by them.
Thomas, 24, from the hard-scrabble city of Orange, Tex., is never satisfied. He’s always looking for ways to make himself better. He understands there is a huge world out there beyond the NFL and he wants to make that world his world. The only way to do that is to challenge himself, to put himself in situations outside his comfort zone.
Recently, Sports Illustrated asked him to work on a piece for their web site. S.I. cameras followed him around Pike Place Market as the Pro Bowl free safety offered patrons, “free safety advice.” It was one of those clever wish-I-had-thought-of-it ideas and Thomas pulled it off, something he probably couldn’t have done a couple of years ago.
“It’s all about confidence,” he said. “Nobody believes in myself more than me. I like to challenge myself and I think it helps make me so complete. It’s weird my mentality, but I want to make myself so complete in all aspects of my life. There’s a lot of things in my life I know I have to get better at, like my communication skills. If that means I have to go out in the streets, making it weird on myself, talking with strangers, just to make me unfearful of that and more comfortable and confident, then that’s what I have to do.
“I envision myself as having so much success down the road. I see myself speaking in auditoriums in front of thousands of people. Everything in life is about confidence, so in the situations in life that make me uncomfortable that I know I have to get better at, I want to turn those weaknesses into strengths. You’ve got to be honest with yourself. You’ve got to take a long look at yourself in the mirror and really realize, ‘I need to get better at certain aspects in my life.’ As you get older, you get wiser and you know you have to keep evolving. My biggest point to myself is, ‘How much can I evolve?’”
He believes in a balanced life. That doesn’t mean the will to win doesn’t smolder inside of him. Ask any pass catcher what it feels to get hit by Thomas. Ask any teammate how much Thomas wants to win.
But there’s more to this game than the games and ever-evolving Earl Thomas is going to enjoy every part of this trip.
“If we win the Super Bowl that’s fine and dandy,” he said, “but I want to be able to look back at the journey and I want to think, ‘Man, I had a great time doing it. The Super Bowl’s the end product, but it’s not going to be any more enjoyable than the whole journey.”