Seahawks' Unger was too big to fail
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Bern Brostek was an eight-year NFL center who went into high school coaching in Hawaii.
In his dreams, a very large, very quick kid with very nimble feet would come walking into his life.
Max Unger made his dream come true. Except for one thing. He had never played football before.
"They wouldn't let me," Unger said. "I was too big. And I didn't have any idea how to do anything. My middle school didn't have a team. No junior varsity, no Pop Warner."
So Brostek and Unger had to find a way to shape those dreams. The evidence is here at the Super Bowl, where Unger leads Seattle's offensive line.
"I didn't cut him any slack," said Brostek, now the coach at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island. "I treated him pretty hard-core. His freshman year, he was the biggest guy on the team, and the seniors were starting to complain that he was a little too rough. But because he really didn't know anything about the game, we couldn't play him until his sophomore year."
Brostek, who started 85 NFL games for the L.A. and St. Louis Rams, laughs at the memory of this unpolished gem. So does Unger.
"He just gave it to me, to be honest with you," Unger said. "I asked the stupidest questions. Had no idea what I was doing. Just a puppy dog out there with big feet. I think one time I had my hand backward in my 3-point stance. But I figured it out."
Unger's development at HPA was hastened because he played beside Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who went to Washington and is now with Tampa Bay.
"For a little school like us, with two guys like that next to each other, that's pretty unusual," Brostek said.
But the recruiters did not catch on. Unger sent film — "well, my mom did, actually" — to most West Coast programs, even Division III schools. Oregon was the only one that responded.
Unger started 51 consecutive games for the Ducks and played in two Rose Bowls and a BCS national championship game. The Oregon offense brings out the best in its offensive linemen, and Unger was a second-round pick of the Seahawks.
"I've talked to my college line coach, Steve Greatwood, about that," Unger said. "He said the recruiting thing was total luck on their part."
But wasn't the U. of Hawaii a little interested?
"They might have been," Unger said. "But our family has lived in Hawaii for five generations and we have a rule. You have to leave Hawaii for a while, when you get out of high school."
Unger redshirted at Oregon in 2007. Greatwood became the offensive line coach the next year and threw Unger into the left tackle position. He started two years there, two years at center. Then he made the Pro Bowl his first year with Seattle. He missed it next year, but only because he was in a bigger bowl.
The Seahawks' line is perhaps the least known aspect of the team, but quarterback Russell Wilson showed his recognition when he gave all the linemen a video game console system.
"There were piles of them in the laundry room," Unger said. "It was a pretty cool thing for him to do."
It reminded Unger that Madden Football was the only game he could play for a while. He might have given Wilson a skateboard, except for one thing.
"I broke all of them, too many to count," he said. "When you get a 300-pound guy on a skateboard, that's what happens."
As it turned out, Unger was merely too big to fail.