How a day spent training with combat divers inspired the Seahawks

RENTON, Wash. -- The compound Doug Baldwin and five of his Seattle Seahawks teammates were responsible for clearing had four rooms on each side.

The players -- Baldwin, Garry Gilliam, Jermaine Kearse, K.J. Wright, Brock Coyle and Luke Willson -- had been given a schedule and a packing list before their recent visit with members of a special-forces unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but they weren't sure what the day of training was going to entail.

The players were armed with paintball rifles, and the combat divers went over with them how to clear the house, room by room, of potential threats. After the teaching was finished, it was time for the exercise to begin. The six players had to enter the compound and work together to clear it while members of the special forces waited inside, ready to take them out.

"I was the first one to go in," Baldwin said. "And so I go in, I’m coming around the corner, and I have to pass this door. This door leads to an open room. And in my head, it’s like, that’s an open door, I could get shot in the back. And I was nervous going past the door. But at the same time, I had to trust Garry Gilliam, who was the second guy in. I had to trust that he was going to get to that door. So I had to eliminate that worry and focus on my area of that room so that the guys that were coming in, they would be safe. It took the level of responsibility and accountability to a whole new level."

Coyle, a third-year linebacker, called it one of the best experiences of his life.

"We learned about teamwork in a high-pressure situation, how to slow yourself down, slow your breath down, things like that," he said.

"For me, the most difficult thing was the mindset of when we were doing the clearing, just how to slow yourself down and not be so aggressive in such a high-intensity environment. But what they taught us is how to slow yourself down and to be smooth because smooth is fast."

One of the most humbling experiences I've ever been through. Thank you to the Special Forces Unit at JBLM.

A photo posted by Doug Baldwin Jr (@doug_baldwin_jr) on

The training served several purposes. It was a team-building activity that took the players out of their comfort zone before the start of training camp. It challenged them mentally. And they believe the methods they learned will help in the months ahead.

"You start feeling that responsibility for the guy in front of you," Baldwin said. "It just took it to a whole other level. Now I’m on the field, I have to see Garry do good. It carried over. It is an indescribable feeling. It really is. We have that feeling or some sort of that feeling on the football field. But when somebody’s life is on the line, I have to get there. I have to. If I don’t get there, he could die. It just took it to a whole different level.

"Now when I’m in the huddle, I feel obligated, more obligated than I did before, that I have to get my job done for Garry, for the other guys, for the guys on the offensive line, for [quarterback] Russell [Wilson], for the running backs. I have to get my job done. So that’s really what that powerful emotion that was infusing us going through those exercises. We’re accountable to the guy next to us. His life depends on me doing my job. So trying to translate that onto the football field -- that was the gist of the experience."

The day of training began in the pool. The combat divers taught the players how to tread water using only their lower bodies. Then they were told to try to stay afloat while pretending that their hands and feet were both tied together. A few of the players -- Gilliam, Coyle and Kearse -- decided they wanted to try the real thing.

"They bound our hands and our feet and tossed us into 10 feet of water and pretty much said, 'Don’t drown,'" Gilliam recalled. "They taught us how to do it, obviously. So not going out there and panicking. Because when you do that, you cause the amount of stress that you have on your mind. Just going in there and being able to control bobbing down in the water, coming back up, getting your breath. Just trying to stay in the mindset that you’re in control and to stay calm. It can be very stressful if you start panicking. Your hands are together, your feet are together, you don’t have anything. You’re underwater. You would think it’s an extremely stressful situation. But if you get in the right mindset, it’s actually pretty meditative. You kind of just get into a flow. You lock in and respond.

"Even in the middle of what we were doing, I would be calm, and then your mind would drift and start thinking about something else, and you kind of freak yourself out. And you have to bring yourself back in. Same thing with football. Something happens where you start anticipating a bunch of stuff, and your mind gets all cloudy and crazy. Take a deep breath and just see what you see and handle your business."

There were other exercises, too. The players were challenged to perform a 50-meter subsurface swim. They had to go 25 meters one way, turn around and do another 25 meters without coming up for air. Coyle went first and crushed it, but none of his teammates were able to make it the whole way.

"When he came up, everybody was like, ‘Oh yeah, we can do it. If Brock can do it, we can do it,' " Baldwin said. "Nobody else survived it. That was difficult."

Baldwin couldn't stop laughing when he recalled a different exercise that involved the players treading water in a circle and passing a 20-pound brick around.

"We struggled mightily," he said. "K.J. and I had the difficult time. I’ll just say that."

As the players spoke Tuesday, it was clear the day was special. The combat divers gave them shirts with their team number, 45, on them. Several of the players have been wearing the shirts at training camp under their practice jerseys.

Each of the six players who made the trip has been on the Seahawks for at least two years. They've been to a Super Bowl and gone through the ups and downs of an NFL season. After the training, they came away with a greater appreciation for what members of the special forces go through and what it means to work together.

"Probably the biggest thing with how we could relate it as a team here and them being a team was this idea of brotherhood and what they told us," Coyle said. "When they say, ‘This guy’s my brother. I’m going to do anything for him,' they absolutely mean it because they put their life on the line every single day in training, defending our country, everything.

"Even doing that with my teammates who I’ve been with for three years, I even felt like I bonded even more with them because it was just such a cool experience. We relied on each other."

Gilliam proudly showed off the shirt the combat divers gave him and explained what the day of training will mean to him going forward.

"It’s mindset," he said. "There’s so many parallels between what they’re doing, what we’re doing in terms of teamwork, visualization, execution, practicing stuff. And the only time you can do it live is when you’re doing it live. ... Football is a lot less risk than what they’re doing, but at the end of the day, this is my job, and this is what I need to do just like it is for them. So just being able to see the way they execute, how crisp and clean the trust and communication, the way they go about things, it gave me a lot of motivation."