On Sunday, and for the rest of this season, the 35 on the back of Joey Blount's jersey won't be the most significant number worn by the rookie safety.
Instead, it will be the 1, 15, 41 on his cleats that will mean the most to Blount, the numbers of his three former teammates at the University of Virginia, Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D'Sean Perry, who were killed in a shooting last month.
Blount wore the cleats during last week's game against the Raiders, playing only hours after flying back from Miami where he attended Perry's funeral, having missed Friday's practice with Pete Carroll's blessing. Blount will wear them again Sunday against the Rams as the Seahawks take part in the league's My Cause My Cleats Initiative, and he plans to continue wearing them to keep alive the memory of his three friends whose lives were cut short before they could potentially realize their NFL dreams.
"I think about them every day," Blount said. "In the game of football, there are a lot of whys that will motivate you to play—family, friends, goals—but for me my purpose got a lot bigger, because those three young men, their dreams were to be where I'm at and they couldn't get there, so I want to make sure that their fires and flames never burn out."
Having flown from Miami to Seattle Saturday evening, arriving after midnight, Blount was told by his head coach that the team would be OK with whatever he needed to take care of himself, including not playing in the game, but despite being physically and emotionally drained, he felt the best thing for him and to honor his friends would be to suit up and play.
Prior to kickoff, Blount led the team out of the tunnel carrying the 12 flag, and on that sprint to midfield, and every other play during Sunday's game, his thoughts were with Chandler, Davis and Perry.
"It was not just physically but emotionally hard because every time I stepped on the field, I would just talk to them in my head just say a little word, like 'This play is for you,'" Blount said. "I've got to always remind myself even when I'm tired that this rep is not just for me, but it's for other people that were proud of me that wished they could be in my shoes that I'm playing for. So it was a really emotional game for me. Physically I was tired—it was a lot of traveling and I was just worn out from all the emotions and crying that I did, but it was a statement game… It was an emotional game to say the least."
"Just Like A Little Brother"
While Blount, who signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted rookie this spring, was close with all three victims of last month's shooting, his bond with Perry was particularly close. Blount first started getting word of a shooting on campus as the team arrived back in Seattle after the 10-hour flight home from Munich, then learned more details on the bus ride to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
"I was a mess," he said of the immediate aftermath of learning the news.
Blount went home to Atlanta to spend time with family during the bye week, then returned to the Seahawks and practiced Tuesday and Wednesday last week before leaving on Thanksgiving to fly to Miami for Perry's funeral.
"It's definitely a sad time," he said. "It was very hard on me personally, I had a connection with those three guys being a year removed from the team and just all three of them were like my younger brothers so it was definitely hard. It was a hard month, but luckily the (Seahawks) and everyone has been really, really supportive in letting me lean on them definitely during an emotional time."
When Perry arrived at Virginia, Blount quickly took to the young linebacker, who was high school teammates with Blount's roommate, Mandy Alonso.
"We became close, I ended up taking him under my wing and I shared some of the greatest memories with him individually," Blount said.
At the viewing for Perry, Blount offered his condolences to Perry's parents, but because his and Perry's friendship was formed away from home at college, he didn't know how much they would even know about him. It was a moving moment for Blount when a conversation with Perry's father confirmed that he had made an impact on his young teammate just as Perry had in his life.
"I didn't really know if they remembered me, because I was the high school friend's roommate," Blount said. "… But (Perry's father) told me is something that really just stuck with me to this day—that his son spoke highly of me and valued my friendship with him, and the same way I viewed him, he viewed me back, and that it was real love. As a man he thanked me for taking care of his son and always being there for him. For me to hear that from his dad made that trip all worth it. Flying across the country, that was so worth it just to know that my love for him was reciprocated and that he shared that with his parents and told someone else about how special our relationship was, because I spoke highly of him to everyone else. All three of them I had special relationships with, but D'Shawn in particular, he was definitely under my wing for sure. We'd take him out to eat, me and my roommate would drive him and his roommate around, just like a little brother who I ended up looking up to."
Seahawks players, dancers, and staff will wear custom designed cleats and shoes supporting causes they feel passionate about during Week 13 at the Los Angeles Rams on December 4, 2022.