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Maury's Chancellor helps to redefine safeties in NFL
Maury's Chancellor helps to redefine safeties in NFL

When Kam Chancellor went on a radio show in 2012, little did he know that one of his answers would spawn a nickname that would come to define the Seattle Seahawks’ NFL-best secondary.

Asked about what role he plays, the former Virginia Tech safety and Maury graduate simply said he brings the “boom.” An enterprising person on Twitter dubbed the Seattle secondary the “Legion of Boom” – a play on the comic books supervillain all-star team, the “Legion of Doom.”

The name caught on. You might remember it as the coda to cornerback Richard Sherman’s post-NFC championship game rant: “L.O.B.”

Sherman’s outspoken role is as clear as that filled by the quieter Chancellor.

“They call me ‘The Enforcer’ back there,” he said by phone last week as the Seahawks prepared for their Super Bowl matchup against Denver. “I kind of lay down the law back there.”

Chancellor, 25, is helping redefine the safety position in the NFL. While for some time the NFL trended toward smaller, quicker players at that spot, the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Chancellor is proving there’s still a place for big, physical types. Guys who impose their will in the defensive backfield.

That element of the game is sure to come into play against quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ record-setting passing offense today.

“My role model, rest in peace – Sean Taylor – he was a big safety,” Chancellor said of the All-Pro Redskins safety who was shot and killed in a burglary of his Miami-area home in 2007. “He brought the same thing to the game and was definitely a guy I idolized and modeled my game after.”

Taylor was 6-2, 212 pounds. Chancellor’s even bigger, and he uses that size to make his presence felt.

He had 11 tackles and an interception in the Seahawks’ 23-17 NFC Championship game victory against San Francisco, separating 49ers tight end and frequent target Vernon Davis from the ball early on with a hard hit. On San Francisco’s final drive, Crabtree displayed seemed to pull up short on a quick slant, when he could sense Chancellor was bearing in.

Being an imposing presence is a difficult role to play in an NFL that these days puts an emphasis on safety, limiting how and where receivers can be hit.

“You definitely have to adjust your target level,” Chancellor said. “I think you can still get the same amount of impact, the same force, but you’ve just got to adjust where you hit guys now. ... Use your shoulder, be smart, adjust with the rules.”

Chancellor’s always had that physical knack, even if he wasn’t always a safety. He was a mostly overlooked prospect as a teen, recruited as a dual-threat quarterback out of Maury High back in 2006. James Madison was his only offer other than Virginia Tech. Rivals even spelled his name wrong – “Cameron” – on his recruiting profile.

He quickly switched positions with the Hokies. The question was: Where was the best fit for a guy with linebacker size but defensive back skills?

Tech defensive secondary coach Torrian Gray ended up putting him at defensive back, first at corner, then to rover and finally to free safety, impressed by his ability to change directions.

“I told him he could be the best safety at Virginia Tech,” Gray said.

Chancellor had a solid college career, starting 41 games, making 208 tackles and earning second-team All-ACC honors in 2009. It’s where he first developed his big-hitting ways.

“I’ve been around other guys who have been Kam’s size and physical stature, but they don’t have that physical temperament,” Gray said. “And that’s what Kam brings to the table.”

Still, NFL types weren’t sure exactly where he’d fit in the pros, where big safeties often get turned into linebackers. But Chancellor took took heart Gray’s advice not to let them make him a linebacker.

“I always told him, ‘You’re a defensive back. You’ve got defensive back movements. Don’t settle and let people tell you that you aren’t a defensive back,’ ” Gray said.

That advice has paid off. A fifth-round pick in 2010, Chancellor has fit seamlessly into what Seattle has wanted to do defensively under coach Pete Carroll. He’s been a starter since 2011 and made 97 or more tackles in each of the last three seasons. He made the 2011 Pro Bowl and would have gone this year if not for the Seahawks’ Super Bowl appearance.

Seattle rewarded him with a five-year contract last spring that could be worth nearly $30 million, and he has put it to good use. In addition to a variety of charity work around Norfolk, Chancellor made sure to take care of his mom.

He surprised Karen Lambert, a single mother of six who sometimes worked two or three jobs to support the family, with a new house just before the start of the season.

He related the story in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“I went home, and I told her I got her a car, but we have to go pick it up,” Chancellor said. “We go drive to the neighborhood, and she’s like, ‘Oh, these houses are nice.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know.’

“So we get to the house, and the car is in the driveway and it has a bow on it. It’s a white Lexus, and she loved it. She was smiling and happy, and tried to open it, but the door was locked. I told her she had to go in the house to get the key.

“I have all my nephews, nieces, sisters, brothers and coaches all in the house waiting for her, and once she opened the door, everyone jumped out and yelled ‘Surprise!’ She was so happy.”

As he prepares for the biggest game of his life, Chancellor still finds it hard to believe he went from his humble beginnings to where he is now.

“I never would have imagined, man,” he said. “The only thing I could say is I know I always had a certain drive about me, always had a passion about me, always was dedicated to whatever I loved. And football was something that I loved.”

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