Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch plays catch before watching his former… (Jose Carlos Fajardo / McClatchy-Tribune )
RENTON, Wash. — Marshawn Lynch once made the earth shake. Now, he does the same to Seattle Seahawks headquarters.
The Pro Bowl running back ambles into the locker room at lunchtime, attaches his smartphone to a speaker in his locker and cranks up the thumping strains of a rap song, setting the pre-practice mood.
"Marshawn, his style personifies the team," says teammate Richard Sherman, raising his voice above the music. "He's so aggressive, that aggressive, straight-in-the-face, hit-you-in-the-face style. He kind of embodies what our team is about."
The undefeated Seahawks use the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch to relentlessly pound defenses, jackhammer style. On average, Seattle runs the ball 34.8 times a game, second to the Buffalo Bills' 36.8. Although Russell Wilson is among the league's best running quarterbacks, he said he would prefer sticking the ball in No. 24's gut, well, 24/7.
"For our offense, we're trying to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch 100% of the time, 99% of the time," said Wilson, whose 4-0 team plays at Indianapolis on Sunday. " 'Hey, Marshawn, you take it.' … It's definitely something we talk about. We want to run the ball early in the game, and we want to run at the end of games too. That's the way we win football games."
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, his first full season with Seattle after he was traded from Buffalo the previous fall, Lynch leads the NFL with 16 100-yard games. His 2,839 yards since Week 9 of that season also lead the league.
With his dreadlocks, his tinted visor and his "Beast Mode" nickname, Lynch has helped bring intrigue and personality to the Seahawks since he arrived during the 2010 season via a trade with Buffalo.
"Seattle's always been one of those teams where, when 'SportsCenter' does their highlights, they're just going to show the score for the Seahawks game," said former Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, now Andrew Luck's backup with the Indianapolis Colts. "But Marshawn's got the hair, the visor, the gold teeth. He's hilarious, because he's got this little act that he does. But he's a smart guy, a nice guy."
With the media, Beast Mode goes Least Mode. He seldom talks to reporters, and was fined by the NFL for clamming up after last season's playoff victory at Washington. After a recent game, he told a reporter: "No comment, and you can quote me on that." And these days, about the only time he's seen talking on camera is during his corny commercial for a local plumber, when he delivers his catchphrase: "Stop freakin' … Call Beacon!"
As a running back, Lynch doesn't always look for the path of least resistance. He has the speed to run around defenders, and the size and aggression to run over them.
"He's going to run violent, man," said his uncle, former NFL safety Lorenzo Lynch. "If you're coming to hit him, you better be ready, because you just might get hit. I don't think he does it to hurt people, it's just his style."
Said Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll: "He wants to take care of what's coming after him, so he's going to go get them if he has to. He'll make you miss, but if he doesn't have that kind of option, he's going to go getcha. So he's got a little bit of everything to him."
Lynch has long relied on superior strength to his advantage on the football field, starting when he was a 7-year-old in Pop Warner relegated to the offensive and defensive lines. His grandfather, a longshoreman in Oakland, advised the coach that his grandson should be carrying the ball.
"I went to the coach and said, 'This is my little grandson. He can catch the football. He can throw the football,'" recalled Leron Lynch, who now lives near Sacramento. "Marshawn was holding my leg, looking up at me. I had my hand on his head, and he said, 'That's OK, Pop-Pop.' He was fine. He just wanted to play. He didn't mind playing on the line."
The coach agreed to let him return a kickoff, and no one could tackle the kid, something that was no surprise to Lynch's family.
"He's always been strong," his grandfather said. "When he was 3, he carried this big oak chair — you know how heavy those are — and he carried it into the kitchen. He got this big jar of peanut butter out of there, and he was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor with nothing but diapers on. Peanut butter was everywhere.
"I said, 'Put that chair back!' He took that oak chair, picked it up, and walked it back into the other room. Strong, strong, strong."
Reminded of that story this week, Lynch smiled, shook his head, and briefly broke the no-talking-to-reporters rule: "I got in the cabinets and got that peanut butter. It was an accident. I was doing things I shouldn't have been doing."
His penchant for peanut butter eventually gave way to his love of Skittles, which began when his mother, Delisa, a former standout high school sprinter, gave him the candies before a Pop Warner game.