Now, his new team – the Seattle Seahawks – will have to wait until he is better.
Thurmond won’t be on the field when the Seattle Seahawks open a three-day minicamp on Friday. He estimates that he’ll be 100 percent by the time training camp opens in late July.
But the Seahawks feel it is worth the wait, because they got a first- or second-round talent with the 13th pick in the fourth round (111th overall).
As Walter Thurmond jogged off the field at Autzen Stadium after returning the opening kickoff against California in September, the kick returner/cornerback from Oregon had no idea just how serious the source of the pain in his right knee was.
“After the hit, I popped up and was able to jog off the field,” Thurmond said Saturday after the Seahawks selected him the fourth round of the NFL draft. “I went to see the trainers, they told me that I sprained my PCL. I really didn’t have a clue until I got the MRI (on) Sunday.”
The magnetic resonance imaging test detected damage not only to the posterior cruciate ligament, but also the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medical collateral ligament (MCL). And rather than sprains, the ligaments were torn – the “trifecta,” as Thurmond called it. So he would need reconstructive surgery – which would be followed by reconstructing his career.
“It was pretty tough, being my senior year and having that taken away from me,” Thurmond said of getting the news that his final season was over when it was just getting started. “I was a captain, so I really had to put my emotions aside for the betterment of the team.”
“In my mind, if he would have finished the season, we would have been talking about him up there with some of the top three or four guys, as a cover guy,” general manager John Schneider said. “When you throw in the returns – the guy’s a dynamic returner – we were all really excited.”
As they were throughout the three-day draft, Schneider and coach Pete Carroll weren’t just on the same page when it came to Thurmond, they were on the same sentence.
“When he’s healthy and ready to go, he is a great returner as well as a heckuva corner,” Carroll said.
But there were so anxious moments when it came to drafting Thurmond. He was a player the Seahawks were targeting with the sixth pick in the fourth round, but they traded back seven spots as part of the deal with the Tennessee Titans to get running back LenDale White and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson.
“Walter was the one guy that we felt like there’s a good chance, if we do this, that we may miss out on him,” Schneider said. “He was still there, primarily because of the injury he just suffered this year.
“So when he was there, we were ecstatic.”
That’s because the Seahawks can use everything that Thurmond will be able to offer. He has size (5 feet 11, 190 pounds), and plays even bigger because of his long arms and fluid movements while in coverage. He has enough speed. He has more than enough experience, despite missing time last season, because he was a four-year starter for the Ducks. He has had the productivity to match his versatility, finishing his career with 254 tackles and 12 interceptions – as well as averaging 25.8 yards returning kickoffs and 15.0 returning punts.
“You’re getting a really well-rounded player, a very polished player, a guy that is going to bring a lot of versatility,” said Eric Stokes, the Seahawks’ area scout responsible for the West Coast. “That’s what is so exciting about him.
“You’re talking about a guy who has excellent instincts in zone (coverage), but he can also play man-press (coverage) and he can turn and run with guys.”
As soon as he is able to turn and run, that is. Thurmond started running at the end of January, but that’s as part of his rehab, not covering receivers on the practice field.
“Walter is going to be a factor this season,” Schneider said. “Our medical staff feels pretty good about where he is. We’re going to manage him all through the summer, and we’ll see where he is when training camp starts. But we’re under the impression that he is going to be able to start training camp.”
That’s because Thurmond is on – if not ahead of – scheduled in his rehab.
“I’m running, cutting, doing a lot of DB drills right now,” Thurmond said. “I just have to strengthen my quad and hamstrings right now to get that speed back.”
Out, but never down. That has been Thurmond’s mantra from the start of his rehab. Don’t look back, only ahead.
“My main focus was getting the rehab down and trying to come back as fast as possible,” Thurmond said. “The rehab has been going pretty good so far.”
Pretty good? That’s an understatement from someone who did that much damage to his knee.