Inside the Seahawks draft room moments after the 2016 draft had come to an end, Northeast area scout Todd Brunner asked offensive line coach Tom Cable to make a decision. Amidst those chaotic moments when teams rush to sign the top undrafted free agents, the Seahawks were trying to decide between George Fant, a former University of Western Kentucky basketball standout, and another lineman.
The Seahawks didn't know a ton about Fant because, well, there wasn't a lot they could know. Fant played only one season of football for the Hilltoppers after an All-Conference basketball career, and that was as a backup tight end who rarely saw game action. But what the Seahawks had seen in Fant's pro-day workout was a unique athlete who just might turn into a quality NFL tackle, so Cable told Brunner he wanted Fant.
"What made us gravitate to him?" Cable said Wednesday. "Long-armed athlete; that's really about it, because there was no background."
Now, that "long-armed athlete" has a chance to start his first NFL game after not playing football in high school or his first four years of college. With starting left tackle Bradley Sowell going down with a sprained knee Sunday, Fant came in and played the final 24 snaps, his first regular-season action. While Fant isn't a lock to keep that job this week—Seahawks coach Pete Carroll mentioned Rees Odhiambo, J'Marcus Webb and Garry Gilliam as other possibilities, and even Sowell hasn't been ruled out as an option just yet—the fact that he is even in the running is a testament to how quickly Fant has learned the game and the position.
"Yeah, he has surprised us from the first day that he stood on the practice field," Carroll said. "He just physically understood how to do the stuff that we were asking him to do. There was no way we could have anticipated he would jump to it as quickly as he did. We're really excited about him. He's been way ahead of the curve in that regard, very unusual transition he has made."
Fant, who said his last football team before Western Kentucky was his pe wee team in Cincinnati, the Lincoln Heights Tigers, admits his story is an unlikely one. Asked if he would have believed a year ago that he would possibly be preparing to possibly start an NFL game, he said, "I don't know if I would have or not. I don't think anybody would have."
If Fant does play against the Saints on Sunday, the Seahawks won't be expecting a perfect performance, but they are excited about the potential based off of what they have seen in practice and in last week's game.
"George did fine (at Arizona) once he settled in," Carroll said. "He's a really good athlete but he's new, so there's going to be new things that happen sometimes, and we just have to hope that we help him properly and that he can come through and make it through it, and we can get the ball away if he does make an error. Pretty excited about him, though.
"He has never played football before, so the concerns would be everything you can think of," Carroll said. "However, he has quelled those concerns by the work that he has put forth, by the competitive nature that he brings, by the athleticism, which is really good. He's got a lot of pluses for him that have just come out very early. Much more quickly than we could have anticipated."
Watching Fant's performance against Arizona, what impressed Cable most wasn't that Fant played a perfect game, but rather how he adjusted quickly when mistakes did happen.
"The cool thing is, what he hadn't had the opportunity to do was fix the issue as it happened," Cable said. "He got (bull-rushed) one time and spun on one time, and then the next time it happened he recovered on both of them."
"He's really put himself to this task of learning. He'll ask questions every single day to his coaches, to his teammates, trying to learn and trying to grow that way. Very diligent in his work and it's paying off, it's definitely paying off."
While Seahawks scouts and Cable were attracted to Fant's athleticism and size, what they didn't know until he got to Seattle was how he would handle the rigors of the sport and the position having such a limited football background. But within the first couple weeks of offseason workouts, Cable felt good about what they had in Fant.
"The part that on the outside you wouldn't understand unless you're involved in it every day is, can they strain?" Cable said. "This is a hard game, you're going to have failures right away, especially when you have a limited background. Can you handle those struggles? Can you recover? Then at the end of the day, is he really athletic enough and strong enough? Is there enough of his makeup that he can keep coming back, wanting to get better. If they can do that, they've got a chance."
"I would say at the end of that first or second week we knew," Cable said. "He's really raw, a lot of issues and all that, but all he did was get better each day. He took coaching, and as we got into the preseason and started to play, you're like, 'he can do this.' You just remember you're dealing with someone where it's like a blank slate, there's nothing there. There's 24 snaps now to his name."
That number of snaps could increase this week if Fant earns his first start, and if he does, as unlikely as that scenario seemed only a few months ago, the Seahawks will be excited to see what he can.
"It's exciting to see where he can take this," Cable said. "You look at each week how much he's grown, and then there's an opportunity maybe this week for him to play quite a bit, and if he does, I'm not worried about it, that's how good I feel about it."
Symetra and Seahawks offensive tackle George Fant honored Chinook Middle School teacher Reid Sundblad as a "Symetra Hero in the Classroom" on October, 25, 2016 at the SeaTac, Washington school, where Sundblad is a physical education instructor.