Ryan Johnson's wish was to meet Seahawks players and head coach Pete Carroll, and the 8-year-old from Iowa got to do just that following Wednesday's practice. What Johnson, who has leukemia, didn't know is that his Make-A-Wish visit would also include catching a few passes from defensive end Michael Bennett.
"He has pretty good hands," Bennett said. "His route-running is like Doug Baldwin's."
Johnson's father, Jeff, was slightly less complimentary of Bennett's quarterbacking skills than Bennett was of Ryan's receiving abilities, joking, "I don't think Russell Wilson has to worry too much about his job."
While Johnson was catching passes from Bennett, 10-year-old Angel Mendoza-Ochoa was surrounded by Seahawks players, including one of his favorites, Thomas Rawls. Players took turns signing Angel's football or posing for pictures, linebacker Brock Coyle made note of Angel's cool shoes, and all the while Angel couldn't stop smiling. Angel, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital bone disorder that confines him to a wheel chair, was visiting from Sunnyside with his family. Both Angel and Ryan spent significant time with players after practice—Rawls hung out with Angel for nearly an hour after practice—collected autographs, pictures with players, and thanks to Wilson, each went home with a pair of autographed cleats. Ryan also got to tap in before practice on the "I'm In" sign with an assist from Richard Sherman, who lifted Ryan up to hit the sign over the doorway players pass through on their way onto the field.
"That was awesome," Jeff Johnson said. "He's had a tough road. He has felt good lately—the last year has been good—but when he was diagnosed, he spent 67 days in the hospital."
Ryan became a Seahawks fan in Iowa because he enjoyed watching them beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl, then he stuck with them through a Super Bowl loss during that two-month long hospital stay. Then on Wednesday, he and Angel got to meet some of their heroes.
"The Make-A-Wish people, what they put together for us, the nice hotel, this practice, everything and everybody has been so great," Jeff Johnson said. "And the players, what a great group of guys. It wasn't a flyby either. Their interest was genuine. We truly appreciate it."
Scenes like Wednesday's, which was the Seahawks' first Make-A-Wish visit of the 2016 season, play out pretty regularly at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. The Seahawks' on-field success has made them more popular, which in turn has made them one of the most popular wishes in the NFL—at least 14 Seahawks-related wishes are expected to be granted this season, according to Donna Verretto, the chief operating office of Make-A-Wish Alaska & Washington.
But while these visits are becoming more common, they're anything but routine. Players don't just go through the motions when Make-A-Wish kids visit, because they know what it was like to once look up to an athlete, and they don't take it lightly that someone with a life-threatening illness would make it his or her wish to come meet them.
"I know that feeling of wanting to experience getting to know someone you look up to," Rawls said. "I was also inspired, because I've been that guy. It brings me back to when I was younger and wanted to experience things like this."
For Rawls, who at this time last year was an undrafted rookie free agent just trying to make the team, it was a bit of a surprise that Angel's wish included meeting Rawls specifically, and it's not something Rawls takes lightly.
"I try to do it on the daily just as far as trying to make someone's day, make them smile," he said. "It is different now, and that's why I hold myself to high expectations and a high standard, because I know I influence a lot of kids."
The Seattle Seahawks invited two Make-A-Wish kids, Ryan and Angel, to attend practice, meet players and tour the locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Wednesday.