That is how the Seattle Seahawks Aaron Curry will remember his first year in the NFL.
As a wide-eyed rookie, the Seattle Seahawks linebacker tried to convince us before last season’s start that he wouldn’t be affected by the weighty expectations associated with being 2009’s No. 4 draft pick.
But looking back on his rookie campaign, Curry can’t help but feel like he let a lot of people down.
“I just say it was unacceptable,” Curry said after a practice last week. “My family didn’t appreciate it, my friends didn’t appreciate it and my fans didn’t appreciate it. I kind of feel like I let a lot of people down last year. We were just so excited, me getting drafted so high and stuff. I really had a standard to uphold and I didn’t.”
Now, Curry is a man on a mission. After a whirlwind year that saw him fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional football player, move across the country from North Carolina to Seattle, marry the woman of his dreams and become a father, Curry is ready for his second season. Ready to live up to not only to his expectations, but also to those of his critical family members and friends.
“I have a really good family and great friends, and even better fans that keep it honest with me and tell me they expect more out of me,” Curry said. “I appreciate that of everyone around me. They want me to play better, give them a reason to walk around with their heads high.”
And he wants to be able to walk around with his head held high.
Curry’s desire to prove himself, to be the best player he can be not only for those on the outside looking in but for himself, is why the biggest upgrade the Seahawks will see this season won’t come from a first-round draft pick or a free agent. It will come from a player who was in a Seahawks uniform last season.
Let’s not get carried away and say Curry was bad in 2009. Like most rookies, he had his ups and downs. He made highlight-reel plays one week, then disappeared in other games. Curry isn’t sure what happened last year, but he is aware that his season started a lot better than it ended.
“I try to let it go, but it was a little funky,” he said. “I started off like a house on fire, and a lot of factors played into the decrease of my playmaking. I’m not here to make any excuses or anything, but for some reason I just wasn’t playing as well as I was when I started out.”
Both his previous coach, Jim Mora, and his new one, Pete Carroll, think part of the problem for Curry was the absence of Lofa Tatupu. With Tatupu healthy early in the season, Curry had a veteran middle linebacker and Pro Bowl player helping ease the transition from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the NFL. But when Tatupu went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, Curry was playing alongside David Hawthorne, who filled in admirably, but lacked the experience and savvy of Tatupu.
“Last year, Aaron played his best football when Lofa was out there,” Carroll said. “And Lofa helped him a lot, frankly. It got harder for Aaron without that experience right next to him. … Lofa affects guys. He helps people understand the game.”
So, no, Curry’s rookie year wasn’t all bad. However, when you are the fourth pick in the draft, when you sign a seven-figure contract before ever playing a down in the NFL, lofty expectations, even unrealistic ones, are something you have to live with. Curry gets that, and he plans on playing at a much different level this season than he did as a rookie.
So while this year’s pair of highly-touted rookies, tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas, go through their inevitable struggles, 2010’s most impactful addition for the Seahawks should be that of a more confident Curry.
“My confidence this year is much higher than last year,” he said. “Confidence in my preparation, confidence in the coaching staff, confidence in my teammates. I’m less worried about outside distractions. I’m really able to focus on what I need to do to become the complete player, the best player the Seahawks want me to be.”
Less worried about the outside distractions, he says. But wait, wasn’t he unhappy because he didn’t live up to the expectations of outsiders?
This is where Curry contradicts himself from time to time. He can’t help it. He plays a violent position in a violent game, one that requires him to do things that may upset opposing players, like Steven Jackson last season when the St. Louis running back felt Curry was getting in some extracurricular hitting after the whistle.
Yet Curry also is a self-proclaimed mama’s boy, a guy who can’t help but hurt when his family members have to listen to critic picking apart his rookie campaign.
So it’s complicated for Curry. On one hand, he is driven by his critics, while on the other, he feels like his best course of action in 2010 is to tune them out.
“Block out all the critics,” he said. “I’ve got to not care about what people say about me, what people think about me whether positive or negative, and really get on a one-way track and not let any distractions get a hold of my brain. Just let me go out there and play. I don’t care what they say about me.”
But he does care. He wants those converted Seahawks fans in Fayetteville, N.C. to wear their blue and green with pride. He wants to live up to expectations, wants to, as he puts it: “Set the reputation of being a really good linebacker.”
And that’s exactly why, when the Seahawks kick off the 2010 season, Aaron Curry, version 2.0, likely will end up the team’s biggest addition.