Released by the St. Louis Rams on Aug. 12, Vobora has found a home that is a lot closer to home. Raised in Eugene, Ore., and reared at the University of Idaho, he’s with a team that wants him – and needs him, because of a lack of experienced depth at the position.
There’s even a twist of irony to this homecoming story: The Seahawks had considered signing Ben Leber, but the former Minnesota Vikings linebacker opted to join the Rams, who released Vobora to clear a roster spot for Leber.
So Vobora is here, and couldn’t be happier.
“It’s the best,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s what you want and to have it be close to home is perfect.”
That was apparent by the number of text messages and calls he got from family members and friends after signing with the Seahawks on Monday.
“People are pretty excited,” he said. “And truthfully, to play for an organization like Seattle, I’m just excited.”
Still, changing teams is never easy. Monday, Vobora was a stranger in a strange facility. He sat by himself near a window at Virginia Mason Athletic Center while waiting to sign his contract. He ate lunch by himself in the cafeteria, because the other players were off.
“Being released, there’s always some uncertainty there,” he said. “But I was just patient for the right team to come along. I feel this is a great opportunity and a great team that’s on its way up.”
Tuesday, it was back to football and the practice field – and that’s where the 6-foot-1, 239-pound Vobora feels most at home. He was working at strong-side linebacker with the No. 2 unit, and also with the kickoff return team in special teams drills.
The coaches envision Vobora possibly filling the same role Will Herring did last season, when Herring was the backup at all three linebacker spots but capable of stepping in to start at any of them – and also a big contributor of special teams.
“Will is a great player,” Vobora said of Herring, who signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency. “So I’m going to absorb as much as I can and do whatever they need me to do and be a standout on special teams.”
The defense even felt familiar, because Vobora was recruited out of Churchill High School by Nick Holt, then the Vandals’ head coach, later an assistant at USC under Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and now the defensive coordinator at the University of Washington.
“The defense we’re running here, there’s actually some recall on terms I knew from the college system,” Vobora said. “So I’m just trying to draw on that.”
The Seahawks also are familiar because Vobora played against them twice a season for the past three years. In fact, he had a career-high 11 tackles against the Seahawks in the 2010 regular-season finale, which Seattle won to clinch the NFC West title; and eight in the 2009 opener, which also was played at CenturyLink Field.
In three seasons with the Rams, Vobora had 83 tackles and another 29 covering kicks on special teams. He played in 34 games, starting 16 – including one in 2008, when he became the first “Mr. Irrelevant” to start as a rookie since linebacker Marty Moore with the New England Patriots in 1994.
Which brings us back to the title that Vobora proudly claims, even though it is bestowed annually on the last player selected in the NFL Draft – in his case, the 252nd pick overall.
“That’s always been something I’ve taken a lot of pride in,” he said.
The “Mr. Irrelevant” program was started in 1976 by former USC and NFL receiver Paul Salata. The week-long festivities in Southern California include a golf tournament and regatta. There’s even a roast/banquet where the player is presented with the Lowsman Trophy – as opposed to the Heisman Trophy that goes to the best player in college football each season. Vobora’s Lowsman is at his parent’s house in Eugene.
“I haven’t seen it in a little while,” he said with a laugh. “But they’ve got it in the trophy case.”
Plus, the proceeds from all things “Irrelevant” benefit various charities.
“It’s a great deal,” Vobora said. “Not only is it a big charity thing – a ton of money gets donated to charities – but being the last pick you get a whole week down in California and they make a pretty fun atmosphere for you.”
Enough so that you don’t feel like the last player selected in the draft.
“It’s an incredible deal,” he said. “You kind of feel like you’re the first pick.”
Vobora also used the “honor” like a large chip on his shoulder pad.
“I always took pride in, ‘Yeah, you can call me ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ but I’m going to come in here and all I need is a chance. I’m going to make the most of it,’ ” he said.
“That’s what I’ve done. I’ve used sort of the buzz and the media behind the name ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ to show, ‘Hey, I can play in this league and play for a long time.’ ”
Now, Vobora is just doing it a lot closer to home.