The way Marcus Trufant speaks is a contradiction. His words hint at anguish, but he delivers them with such a tranquil lightheartedness that you’d think he was discussing the time of his life.
If it feels like new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is constantly leading a pep rally, then Trufant is the conversationalist sitting on the porch, sipping lemonade, mellow as can be. He’s as positive, yet even-keeled, during this redemption attempt as he was during his breakthrough season three years ago. That’s just how Trufant is. He got it from his father, Lloyd, whose nickname is Chill.
“I never get too out of whack,” Chill Jr. said.
That’s good because his past two seasons could’ve sunk Richard Simmons into depression. Trufant finished that joyous 2007 season with a career-high seven interceptions, and several months later, he signed a new six-year contract that included $20 million in guaranteed money. Trufant was 27 years old, ridiculously rich and a Pro Bowl cornerback on a championship-aspiring team with a string of five consecutive playoff appearances.
Then 2008 arrived. Trufant had an average year. As a unit, the secondary had a horrible year. The entire team fell apart and finished 4-12.
And in 2009, just before training camp, Trufant suffered a disc injury in his back and missed the first six games of the season. When he returned for the final 10 games, he wasn’t the same player. He remembers the nightmare well — the pass-interference penalties, the receivers sprinting past him, the “What’s wrong?” questions from the media.
To his credit, Trufant never made excuses. But he knew he was a better player. He knew he hadn’t lost that much skill, either. He decided to keep his mouth shut and keep working to get healthy.
“I could feel the difference,” Trufant says now. “I could see the difference. But at the end of the day, if you’re out there on the field, there are no excuses. You’ve got to make it happen — injured, hurt, if you’re feeling good, whatever. You’ve got to able to make it happen for your team. The PI’s (pass interceptions), the touchdowns and all the other stuff I gave up — that kind of stuff can’t be in my game. Yeah, man, I was grinding, just trying to grind through an injury, but I have to be better.”
The hardest part, Trufant said while grinning, was when he was unable to practice early last season. Sometimes, he would look through a window inside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and peer at his teammates practicing, wishing he could be out there. Instead, all he could do was go to another rehabilitation session.
Now, Trufant appears healthy. The back injury is something that he’ll likely always need to monitor. Much like quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, Trufant has spent hours strengthening his core muscles to take pressure off his back, committing to new stretching exercises and sticking to a regimen prescribed by a specialist.
Trufant is transitioning toward life as an older player. Hard to believe, but this is the former Washington State star’s eighth NFL season. He turns 30 Christmas Day. He remains blessed with exquisite footwork, fluid hips, good speed and natural playmaking ability, but athleticism can’t dictate his game anymore. Trufant had only missed two games in his career before last season, but he now understands that physical limitations will be a factor as he ages. He wants to last in this game, so he’s adjusting, studying harder, preparing better mentally, soaking in the knowledge of veterans such as the 36-year-old Lawyer Milloy.
“I think I have to make that transition,” Trufant said. “In order to be a good corner for a long time, it’s about both your mind and your physical talents.”
Even more, Trufant, a Tacoma native, wants to be a part of another Seahawks’ turnaround. He helped the team turn into a perennial contender and Super Bowl runner-up under Mike Holmgren. Now, he says “it means a lot” to him to try to bookend his career with a revival under Pete Carroll.
“I feel like they expect more of me as a team,” Trufant said. “I expect more of me as a player. So that’s the goal this year, to kind of erase last year and do the best I can this year. With the injury, I’ve been through a kind of mental game that you have to play by yourself. You can’t get too down. You can’t be too anxious to get back. You’ve got to take care of your business, so when you get back on the field, you’re at your best. I think I’m back.”
Chill Jr. sounds like he never left.