“You know him now as the player who was so highly regarded by the Seahawks that they moved up in the draft to get him. You’ve learned that he’s an Oregon Duck, one of the no-names up front that made their potent spread offense go.
As the 49th pick overall, he’s supposed to be a 6-foot-5, 310-pound fixture on the Seahawks offensive line for years to come.
At one time, Tom Goodspeed knew a different Max Unger. So did Bern Brostek. His coaches at Hawaii Prep Academy saw a gangly ninth grader who had never played football.
Unger wanted to play, but his local Pop Warner league wouldn’t let him because he was too big and would’ve crushed kids his age — his dad said he was 5-10 and 200 pounds in the 6th grade.
That first year Goodspeed had him on his point-after-touchdown team, and the Hawaii Prep head coach will never forget the sight of Unger in his street clothes on the sideline
“Coach, I can’t play today,” Unger said.
“What’s up?” Goodspeed asked.
“I can’t play because my thumb really hurts,” Unger said.
Over the phone, Goodspeed laughs while he tells the story, and you can picture him shaking his head. “He couldn’t play because his thumb hurt. … That shows you how far he’s come,” Goodspeed said.
There were early glimpses. Brostek, 42, was impressed when Unger, as a freshman, knocked a few of his senior teammates to the turf. They got up swinging, and Brostek had to break it up.
“He had some toughness and a drive to want to do it,” said Brostek, the Hawaii Prep offensive line coach who played in the NFL and at Washington from 1985-89. “When you can get defensive linemen pissed off, you’ve done a good job.”
Unger’s story is an improbable one — going from a small boarding school on the Big Island to this, a job and what is expected to be a $3 million contract with the Seahawks.
It’s a story with Husky connections — Brostek is one of the more prominent linemen in Washington history, and Unger’s best friend, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, is a U-Dub defensive end who played with him at Hawaii Prep.
None of it makes sense, not even to Unger’s dad, Keith. You shouldn’t go from a 300-student school to a Division I school like Oregon and on to the NFL.
Maxwell McCandless Unger grew up on the family’s 15,000-acre timber and cattle ranch on a rural part of the island, 30 miles south of Kailua-Kona.
Ranching didn’t appeal to him, and he wasn’t much of a surfer either, shooting down that mainland perception of a kid from Hawaii.
“I don’t surf when I go home,” he said. “It’s not high on my list of priorities. And I don’t think waves are conducive to the contract structure of the Seattle Seahawks.”
He couldn’t play football and didn’t want to surf, but his dad told him he had to do something, so Unger skateboarded and played roller hockey. His size caused him to break 20 skateboards, and his dad collected them all.
“Max, you can’t do that trick anymore”