January 28, 2015
Chancellor, Sorensen ready to lead Seahawks into Super Bowl
By Jimmy Robertson

For the second straight year, two former Virginia Tech players will be a part of the Super Bowl.

Kam Chancellor and Nick Sorensen are on the same team – the Seattle Seahawks – but they will approach Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots from different perspectives.

Arguably the NFL’s top hitter, Chancellor is the bone-crushing strong safety whose hits and other big plays fuel the Seahawks’ defense, while Sorensen is the cerebral-minded assistant special teams coach who draws upon his 10 years of NFL playing experience and his days under Frank Beamer to concoct some of Seattle’s successful schemes on special teams.

Together, they hope to claim a second Super Bowl ring, one on the heels of last year’s victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

“All glory to God,” Chancellor said in a phone interview last week. “It’s been a wild journey, an appreciated journey. The second time around, you get everybody’s best shot. Teams kind of get a better understanding of what you do against them so they try to find your weaknesses and try to find things to do against the defense or the team.

“It’s the biggest challenge of getting back there, plus the adversity within the team. Being that we won the Super Bowl the first time, we also had to overcome guys getting complacent and had to get them to understand that we want to do this consistently.”

For Chancellor, Sunday’s game is the next step in his evolution, a step toward solidifying himself as the game’s best safety. He’s already a three-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion – all at the age of 26.

It has been a meteoric rise for a young man who came from humble beginnings. One of six children to a single mom who worked two jobs in Norfolk, Virginia, to make ends meet, Chancellor actually arrived at Tech as a three-star quarterback whose only other scholarship offer was from James Madison University. But he worked his way into some playing time at cornerback as true freshman and went on to play three different positions in his career, earning second-team All-ACC honors following his senior season.

The Seahawks drafted Chancellor in the fifth round in the 2010 NFL Draft. He played mostly on special teams as a rookie, moved into the starting lineup his second year and has been a starter ever since.

“Tech played a big role as far as me moving around at different positions and getting me experience at corner and the experience at strong and free safety,” he said. ”I saw all the different angles, and I learned the footwork I needed to learn to be successful. I learned coverage skills, like deep middle, and everything I needed to learn as a DB, I learned at Virginia Tech. It helped me get into the league. It gave me an edge and another step. I built off of what Tech taught me and went from there.”

Like Chancellor, Sorensen arrived at Tech as a quarterback and ultimately ended up in the defensive backfield. Tech’s coaches moved him to free safety following his junior season, and he wound up starting as a senior. His final game was Tech’s loss to Florida State in the 2000 national championship game.

Sorensen carved out a 10-year career in the NFL with three different teams (St. Louis, Jacksonville and Cleveland) by being a stalwart on special teams. As a rookie with the Rams, he got to play in the 2002 Super Bowl (Super Bowl XXXVI), a game that the Rams lost 20-17 to the New England Patriots. He played through the 2010 season, and his 10-year tenure in the NFL is the longest of any Tech player to play in that national title game, with the exceptions of Michael Vick and Shayne Graham.

Sorensen remained in Cleveland after his playing career ended. In 2012, he started a second career, working for Youngstown State as a “quality control” coach.

“I feel like, as I was playing, coaching was definitely something I was interested in,” Sorensen said. “I was always kind of asking coaches here and there what it was like, especially if I came across a coach who had played. I would pick their brain because it was always an interest of mine. I knew I always loved football, and I had a feeling it would be hard for me to leave the game, so I always kind of had that deep feeling that I wanted to coach.”

In 2013, Sorensen landed his current gig with the Seahawks. In a sense, he got a bit lucky. He knew absolutely no one in the Seattle organization.

“My agent [Ron Del Duca], who I had playing always kind of stayed in contact, had some relationships with GMs [general managers], and he sort of carried that over for me as he was calling around trying to get me a job playing,” Sorensen said. “The very next year, he was calling around telling people that I’d like to coach.

“I was at the Senior Bowl, and my agent had talked to the GM [of the Seahawks], John Schneider, and he had a few minutes to talk, and I chatted with him briefly. He told me they might have an opening as an assistant special teams coach, and a few weeks later, we connected again. They flew me out for an interview, and I got the job. I was lucky because I didn’t have any real connections out here in terms of playing or knowing anyone.”

These days, Sorensen actually gets to coach Chancellor, who plays on many of Seattle’s special teams. The Seahawks’ kickoff team actually saved the season in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. That unit recovered an onsides kick that led to Seattle’s game-tying score. The Seahawks went on to win.

“That’s my guy,” Chancellor said of Sorensen. “We have the same understanding as far as special teams. We know how important they are because we went to the same school. We come from Virginia Tech and ‘BeamerBall.’ So we understand the importance of special teams and how they can be the difference in a game.”

There is certainly a mutual respect between the two – and not just because they both played at Tech.

“Kam is unbelievable,” Sorensen said. “It’s not just the fact that he will do special teams as a starter and an All-Pro. It’s the intensity and the attention to detail that he does them. That’s why he is who he is.

“Kam does it the same every day. He’s a great example to our players. We can say ‘Look at Kam. This is how he’s doing it in practice, and guess what, news flash, shockingly he does it just like that in the game.’ It’s a testament to him as a player and as a person. He brings it every single day, and regardless of whether he’s a Hokie or not, you want him on your team, and it’s a joy to have him around.”

Joy certainly isn’t coming from those who face Chancellor. Even though he missed two games this season with injuries, he still managed to record 78 tackles (60 solo). As the year went along, he got healthier, and it showed in the playoffs. He recorded 11 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown in Seattle’s win over Carolina in the divisional round and registered five tackles in the win over Green Bay.

His monster hits have become legendary, and video clips of them are littered throughout YouTube. To say he’s the NFL’s most feared hitter would not be a stretch.

“It’s one of those things that I wanted to be known as,” Chancellor said. “You know, Sean Taylor [former Washington Redskins safety] was a guy I looked up to, and he was known as one of those guys – and still is. I want to do the same thing and follow his legacy.

“But it definitely feels awesome. There are so many hits that it’s hard to pick one, but my favorite would probably have to be in the Cleveland Browns game against Montario Hardesty just because it was in the open field. He cut back, and I picked him up in the air and planted him.”

For a view of Chancellor’s hit on Hardesty, click here.

Both Chancellor and Sorensen want to come back to campus for the annual Maroon-White game in late April, but need to wait and see when Seattle’s offseason workouts are scheduled. Regardless, they are among a special group of Hokies.

Eighteen Virginia Tech players have played in a Super Bowl. Eleven, including Chancellor, won Super Bowl rings.

Both attribute much of their success to what they learned while playing at Tech – and in particular one man.

“Coach Beamer, to me, was a player’s coach,” Chancellor said. “I think he looks out for the guys. He took care of his players and looked out for our best interests.”

“I think, for certain, a lot of what I’ve learned can be attributed to Coach Beamer,” Sorensen said. “No question.”

The kickoff for Sunday’s game is 6:30 p.m., and it will be televised by NBC.

Bryan Johnston, Tech’s director of content strategy, contributed to this story.

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