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Thursday, September 8, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

No-name Weaver impresses Hawks

Seattle Times staff columnist

KIRKLAND — The first time Leonard Weaver touched the football in the first minicamp of his life, he made an impression.

"Who's No. 43?" Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren asked, looking down at the roster attached to his clipboard.

No. 43 was a free-agent tight end from Division II powerhouse Carson-Newman, whom the Seahawks were moving to fullback.

No. 43 was a no-name on a field full of big names, who subtly was making the coaching staff take notice.

Weaver had good hands, quick feet and smarts. When he was told to do something he responded. When he got his hands on the ball he made plays. When he was asked to block bigger linebackers he wasn't afraid to stick his helmet into a gap.

"He showed some immediate ability to do some things as a back," Holmgren said. "He looked very natural. He had good hands. He was a quick learner. As I watched him more, I remember coming in and telling our coaches, 'Hey, this young guy is pretty natural in his movement.' "

To say Weaver was a longshot is like saying the Mariners are a longshot to win the wild card, or William Hung is a longshot to win a Grammy.

"My game plan from the get-go was, no matter what people said, I had to come in and contribute the way I know how to contribute," Weaver said after yesterday's practice. "That was to go hard every down and outwork the man I was in competition with.

"I never really thought about the odds. Only a couple of times did I think about what the coaches were thinking. I didn't want that to trap me. I didn't want to get into a mind game, thinking about the numbers."

But when he came to Seattle last April, Weaver was, quite literally, just another number on the field, an anonymous No. 43.

"As a free agent in this day and age, he was running uphill all the way," Holmgren said. "But he clearly wanted it badly. He bucked the odds. He didn't even think about the odds. He just came in and did the best he can, which is what I tell all the young guys."

Weaver is as fresh as sea air. He greets you with a big smile and firm handshake. He answers, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir." He is genuine.

"Leonard is one of my favorite subjects," Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks said by telephone yesterday. "He's overcome so much in his life, but he's eliminated the negative thoughts. He's had some disappointments in his life, personal things.

"And then professionally, at 6-foot, he wasn't supposed to be big enough to play in the NFL. But he's always worked to overcome his problems."

In college, Weaver suffered from depression. There were days when he felt as if a dark curtain had dropped on his life and he couldn't understand its origins.

"There were just a lot of things back in college that really had me disturbed," Weaver said. "There were a lot of things going on within myself, and I had to get some things straight. But, lo and behold, God blessed me and He's come into my life and helped me out.

"It was an internal, external thing. I was dealing with a lot of depression. I was feeling like I couldn't do certain things. Feeling bad about myself. Feeling sorry for myself."

As Weaver had more football success, the depression lifted. Last season he was named a Division II All-American. He caught 27 passes, including a team-high eight touchdown receptions.

"I believe we go through tests for a reason," Weaver said. "I believe my character was being tested. And in my junior year a lot of people could see that I could run, and a lot of people could see that I could block a little bit. And I think that's when things started coming around for me a little bit.

"When I first started seeing a lot of positive things happening, first on the field, everything else started picking up from there."

In college, Weaver was nicknamed "The Bishop," because of his offseason ministry. He traveled a great deal, preaching and singing Christian-based rhythm and blues.

"His faith is very real to him," Sparks said. "It gave him a perspective a lot of people don't have. It made him a very consistent person. If he had something happen in his life he could handle it because he had built a foundation."

Weaver, who will back up Mack Strong and play on special teams, was the Hawks' second-leading rusher in the exhibition season, averaging 8.9 yards on 13 rushes.

He assured his roster spot in the second half of the last game against Minnesota, running for 59 yards on seven carries. His 31-yard touchdown run gave the Hawks a 14-10 third-quarter lead.

"The first time I talked to Mike [Holmgren] was in minicamp," Weaver said. "He came up and said to me, 'How are you doing, Weaver? We're looking forward to seeing some things.' That was all that was said.

"It was really shocking when he said my name. It was like, 'Oh, my God, he knows me.' But that just goes to show you that the coaches do see everything. When they come in and evaluate film they're watching everything and everybody."

They saw a number and watched Leonard Weaver play himself into a name and a job.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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