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Originally published November 8, 2009 at 7:45 PM | Page modified November 8, 2009 at 9:46 PM

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Jerry Brewer

David Hawthorne a quick study filling in for Seahawks' injured Lofa Tatupu

Two big interceptions against Lions add to linebacker's burgeoning resume

Seattle Times staff columnist

Six weeks ago, David Hawthorne was one timid understudy.

He was nervous, afraid that he wouldn't measure up, uncertain that he was ready for this challenge. Hawthorne studied film and his playbook late into the night, motivated as much to protect against failure as to maximize a chance at success. He'd spent more than a year preparing for this moment, but there's nothing like the pressure of Showtime. How could he come close to Lofa Tatupu's standard — Pro Bowl middle linebacker, team leader, brains of the defense?

"My thing was, I had never started an NFL game," Hawthorne said. "My expectations weren't that high."

And then he went out, collected 16 tackles and intercepted a pass.

Nerves soothed.

Since that breakout game against Chicago, Hawthorne has been a consistent force, Tatupu has fallen victim to a season-ending injury, and the Seahawks have managed to get by without their most valuable defensive player.

Hawthorne continued his fine play Sunday with a nine-tackle, two-interception performance in the Seahawks' nerve-wracking 32-20 comeback victory over Detroit.

Lofa who?

OK, OK. Let's not act crazy. The Seahawks miss No. 51 badly. But Hawthorne, once an undrafted afterthought, isn't the typical understudy, either.

"He's just an all-around great player," Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant marveled. "He's become a leader for our defense, and he's working hard. I see only bigger and better things coming for him."

What could he possibly do next? Hawthorne had two sacks last week against Dallas. He forced a fumble in the game before that. He already hits harder than a slugger with a 3-1 count. It seems the young Texan possesses limitless potential, which is remarkable considering every NFL team passed on him in the draft two years ago.

It goes to show what humility and hard work can do for a professional athlete. Hawthorne has made himself into a worthy NFL starter.

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"Really, more than anything with David, it's his work ethic," coach Jim Mora said. "He really gets himself ready to play on Sundays. He'll come out there sometimes on Wednesdays, and he'll struggle a little bit with the calls, the things that we're doing differently in the game plan, but he'll go home and spend four or five hours on his own, studying film, getting in the playbook, working at his craft. By the time we kick it off on Sunday, he is ready to go."

Hawthorne credits Tatupu for much of his preparation. To Tatupu's credit, he refuses to be a bummed-out injured guy. He has remained a team leader by spending time with the linebackers in meeting rooms and pulling Hawthorne to the side for individual instruction and advice. Tatupu's words of wisdom for this game: Just be yourself.

With Tatupu, linebackers coach Zerick Rollins and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Hawthorne's ear, the transition has been smoother than expected.

"With a guy like that in your corner, you've got to succeed," Hawthorne said of Tatupu. "Lofa is like a quarterback out there, and teams know that. You can't outthink him. And I'm trying to get to that level."

He used his mind to pick off Detroit rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford twice. Hawthorne spent the week homing in on Stafford's tendencies, and on both his interceptions, he read the quarterback perfectly.

"It was kind of like I was a step ahead," Hawthorne said, grinning.

Hawthorne has three interceptions this season. For a tough, hard-nosed middle linebacker, he has great hands.

Maybe that's why most college teams wanted to turn him into a safety. He weighed less than 200 pounds coming out of high school. He went to Texas Christian because the coaches believed he could play linebacker.

He's a natural. He even has a gash over the bridge of his nose to show it. The wound has been there for six weeks, and it looks as fresh as it did back then. It makes you wonder if he even wants it to heal.

Mike Singletary had the stare. Tatupu has the tattoo down his arm. Ray Lewis has the spastic dance. Maybe Hawthorne has the gash.

Middle linebackers are a different breed. Hawthorne isn't in that class, of course, but he's climbing. The understudy has skills.

"It's definitely a dream come true," Hawthorne said. "It's like a blessing in disguise. I didn't want Lofa to get hurt, but I'm happy to show what I can do. I always said to myself that when I got an opportunity, I was going to shine.

He's shining all right. He's a star — an unexpected, out-of-nowhere star — the most pleasant surprise of a difficult first eight games.

Bet his expectations are pretty high now.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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