After enjoying a few minutes after practice with his 9-month son, Nick Bellore headed back into the locker room, joking as he walked off the field, "I'm going to have to play five more years so he remembers that I actually played in the NFL."
While it might seem like a stretch that a 32-year-old heading into his 11th season has another five years left in him, it also would have probably been just as unlikely a decade to suggest that an undrafted linebacker out of Central Michigan would enjoy a decade-long career in the NFL, or that he would make his first Pro Bowl in his 10th season, earning that honor as a special team player last year.
And in his 11th training camp and third with the Seahawks, Bellore is showing off what has allowed him to stick around in the NFL for so long despite starting only 17 of 151 career games. After spending the first six years of his career as a linebacker, Bellore moved to fullback while with the Lions in 2017 and that has been his primary position ever since. OK, special teams has been his primary role, but there's no ST designation on the roster and he has been a fullback ever since making that move. But Bellore can still play linebacker in a pinch, and with the Seahawks dealing with multiple injuries at that spot, he has spent the past couple of weeks playing on defense, very much looking like he belongs.
"He's good, and he's smart too," said linebacker Cody Barton. "He's always been a smart guy and it's fun having him in the room as well. He's good. He makes plays."
When Bellore makes plays on defense, however, he hears accusations of being "a double agent" from his offensive teammates.
"I'm kind of a double agent," he said. "If I make a good play on defense, they assume I cheated, that I knew what the call was. They give me too much credit on that."
So do you cheat when playing defense?
"I try not to... I obviously do. You've got to take whatever advantage you get."
Bellore's ability to help out wherever needed is noticed and appreciated by his teammates, including quarterback Russell Wilson, who played against Bellore when he was a linebacker for the 49ers, and who has also thrown a touchdown to Bellore, a 3-yard score in 2019.
"Nick Bellore knows everything, he knows all of the plays on offense," Wilson said. "We have to do some fake calls sometimes when he's in there. He's doing a great job. When I first played Bellore he was actually a defensive player, so I remember playing against him back in the day. He knows what he's doing on defense, he's a good football player. To have a guy like that, that can play both sides of the football, you have to give him credit for what he can do on offense and defense. He's definitely the funniest guy on the team, but he's also one of the hardest working guys on the team. He's in here every day grinding, putting the work in and that's what you love about him."
And if Bellore's play on special teams and his versatility to play offense and defense his most valuable traits to the Seahawks, then that sense of humor Wilson mentioned comes in a close second.
On playing two positions in camp, he quips, "It keeps things new and exciting for me, which is fun being as old as I am."
When he makes plays on defense, Bellore says, "It's a good confidence booster, because if I do anything remotely good out there, the rookies have no idea that I used to play defense, so I won't tell them I did either, so they think I was able to just pick it up like that."
And just as he figures he'll have a hard time convincing his son that he was an NFL player, Bellore said he faces the same challenge when telling strangers what he does for a living. Asked if he'd describe himself as a fullback or a linebacker, Bellore said, "I think half the battle is just convincing that I actually play on the team, so I don't really get into positions or anything. They're like, 'No you don't,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, I do.' So it's more of that than anything."
Bellore's long career as an undrafted player who was never a regular starter is a testament to the type of career a player can have if he puts in the work on special team, though he isn't sure if his career will inspire young players or not.
"I hope it's that and not, 'Wow, I don't want to end up looking like that, a bald 32-year-old'" he said.
Despite having a one-liner for every occasion, Bellore downplays his comedic chops when it's mentioned that nearly every teammate lists him as one of the funniest players in the locker room.
"There's a lot of things that guys do in there or on social media that you can make fun of, and I tend to exploit that," he said. "They do it to themselves really, and I'm just trying to make sure everyone knows what they did or didn't do."
Of course, for all of his reps at linebacker in camp and for all of the one-liners, Bellore's biggest impact will come on special teams where he served as captain last year, made the Pro Bowl and helped lead one of the league's best special teams units, a group that expects to be just as good if not better in 2021.
"The biggest thing we have that's really rare is the continuity in core guys on special teams, which never happens," he said. "To have guys like BBK and Cody for three years now is very rare. Usually, it's a pretty transient phase of football, and to have the same guys—we have playmakers."
One of those playmakers is safety Ryan Neal, who like Bellore came into the league as an undrafted free agent, and who stuck around his first couple of seasons in large part because of his play on special teams.
"I have all respect for guys like that," Neal said of Bellore's long career as a special teamer. "I've known guys like that all of my life. Chris Maragos is one, he was here but I met him when I was in Philly, Bellore is another. Justin Bethel, I played with him. When you have a role and you're the best at it, you're respected for it. Those guys, I have a ton of respect for. They figured out how to get in this game, stay in this game, and made themselves valuable. When you see him now, he's taking reps everywhere, Bellore is used everywhere, he made the Pro Bowl last year, and he's still making noise."
Whether Bellore can make noise for another five years remains to be seen, but over the past 10 seasons he has done more than enough to leave an NFL legacy his son will be proud of when he's older.
Photos from Seahawks Training Camp practice, held on Thursday, August 19 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Seahawks Training Camp is presented by Safeway.