Seahawks’ Earl Thomas did it for his late friend

Before he would allow himself to celebrate, Earl Thomas took time to remember and honor a friend and teammate who was lost.

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Following his first career interception and 34-yard return early in the fourth quarter Sunday, Seattle’s rookie free safety pointed to the sky in hopes that somewhere Reggie Garrett would be smiling with approval.

“I dedicated this game to him,” Thomas said.

It’s been just over a week since Garrett, a senior quarterback, collapsed on the sideline minutes after throwing a touchdown for West Orange-Stark High School in West Orange, Texas. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead at age 17.

Thomas was a senior when Garrett was a freshman at West Orange. The two became friends, working out together in the summers. They became so close that Thomas asked that Garrett be allowed to wear his number – 12 – which had been retired at West Orange.

Thomas learned about Garrett’s death before last week’s game at Denver. On Sunday, he was still hurting.

“He meant a lot to me and to our community,” Thomas said. “Everybody has taken it really hard.”

There was a memorial in West Orange, but because of the demands of pro football, Thomas couldn’t attend.

“I sent a letter and asked them to read it out loud,” Thomas said quietly.

And if his words weren’t enough, Thomas was going to make sure everything he did on the field would be.

“I just did it for him,” Thomas said.

The week came to a culmination in the game’s final moments when Thomas intercepted a Philip Rivers pass on fourth down with 15 seconds to go to seal Seattle’s 27-20 win at Qwest Field.

Thomas ripped off his helmet and looked skyward. His act earned him an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

Such outbursts will be overlooked if Thomas keeps making plays like that.

By taking him with the 14th pick of the 2010 draft, the Seahawks hoped that Thomas’ combination of speed, athleticism and knack for making big plays would invigorate the secondary.

After three NFL games, Thomas is making the Seahawks look very smart.

His first interception bounced off the fingertips of Antonio Gates.

Thomas tried to do what he did twice in college and once in the preseason – return it for a touchdown.

He came close, racing 34 yards, past two tackles before being pushed out of bounds.

Thomas’ second pick hints at his awareness. When the Chargers kept a running back in to protect Rivers, Thomas was free to roam the secondary. And when Rivers locked on Legedu Naanee, Thomas was reading it. With amazing closing speed he jumped in front of Naanee for the grab.

Thomas became the first Seahawks rookie to intercept two passes in a game since Kenny Easley did it against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 12, 1981.