RENTON - Ben Obomanu played the waiting game, and when his chance came he seized it.
A seventh-round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2006, the University of Auburn product fought to stay on the roster each year. This season was no different.
Obomanu played well in the final two exhibitions to secure one of five wide receiver spots at the end of training camp.
And just as in years past, Obomanu mostly was used as a gunner on special teams and on a handful of plays on offense during the first half of the season.
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Obomanu saw action for 12 games in 2007, then missed all of the 2008 season with a broken clavicle. It was a year Seattle spun through 11 different receivers.
In 2009, Obomanu played in 14 games, finishing second on the team in special teams tackles.
But something changed this year. With new coach Pete Carroll’s emphasis on competition, along with the departure of veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch, the fifth-year pro worked his way up the depth chart when Deon Butler and Golden Tate faltered.
He finally earned his first start at Arizona in Seattle’s ninth game. And he flourished, finishing with four catches for 60 yards in Seattle’s 22-10 win over the Cardinals.
Obomanu, 27, had put in his work during the summer to prepare himself for success. He bought a pitching machine for his offseason workouts back home in Selma, Ala., catching 100 passes a day. He ran routes and caught passes at night to sharpen his focus. And he ran during the middle of the day in the Alabama heat to improve his speed and endurance, all in anticipation that his chance might come this season.
“A lot of guys earned their spot during training camp and no matter what happens, that’s their spot for the whole season,” Obomanu said. “You’ve got to wait all the way to the next season in order to prove yourself. So the competition thing throughout the season has really given everybody an opportunity to earn what you want to accomplish.
“It was something that I envisioned for myself going into training camp personally. But for it to actually happen is a surprise to me, too. But I’m grateful and humbled for it.”
Obomanu serves as a nice complement to big receiver Mike Williams because of his versatility. He has enough speed to take the top off the defense, along with the running ability to make defenders miss in the open field, as evidenced by his 16.5-yards-per-catch average, which puts him in the top 10 in the league among receivers with at least 30 catches.
He has reliable hands, even after suffering a nasty cut between his ring and pinkie fingers on his right hand against Carolina that forced him to miss a game. He’s a big target at 6-foot-1, 204 pounds. And he’s a precise route runner who knows how to find the openings in the seam of a defense.
“Ben does everything well,” said Seahawks receivers coach Kippy Brown. “He’s very reliable. He’s a guy that’s where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there. He really studies the game, and he’s adamant about not making mistakes.
“He’s not flashy, but when given the opportunity, he makes plays.”
Obomanu’s one of the smartest players on the team. He graduated as class valedictorian at Selma High, finished college at Auburn in three years with a finance degree and will finish his masters in business from the same school this summer.
He comes from a family of school teachers who emphasized education, with his mother, three aunts, two uncles and a sister all in the teaching profession.
“That’s all we pretty much knew is go to school and do your homework, and I played sports on the side,” Obomanu said.
And the soft-spoken Obomanu is one of the hardest workers on the team, showing up early to practice and staying late to get in extra work.
“He’s very quiet, and he speaks with his play,” Seahawks tight end John Carlson said. “I have a lot of respect for the work that he does when no one’s looking. He works his butt off in the weight room.
“It’s fun to play with him because you know he’s going to make plays. He’s the kind of guy you can count on.”
Most important, Obomanu is a football player, willing to make the downfield block to spring a running back loose or a key tackle on special teams to keep a return man from breaking loose.
“A lot of guys have talent, but a lot of guys don’t play hard,” Williams said. “Even the big-name guys, the guys that make the big money. Yeah they’ll make their catches and things like that, but when you watch the film, you don’t look at them and say, ‘They play hard,’ or he’s making the effort to go block that guy, or go get the safety. Obo is a player. You don’t question what you’re going to get out of him.”
Obomanu said he’s looking forward to playing against the Saints for a second time this season. His hometown of Selma is only a five-hour drive from the Big Easy, and about 25 family and friends traveled to New Orleans to watch him play earlier this season. He didn’t disappoint, finishing with five catches for 87 yards, including a 2-yard reception for a score.
Obomanu’s high school team’s nickname also is the Saints, including the Fleur de Lis emblem New Orleans wears on its helmets.
“It’s always fun when you play a team that you’ve seen and rooted for, for a long time,” Obomanu said. “That made it that much more special for my family and friends coming down, because it was a team they were familiar with.”