George Fant stands 6 feet 6, weighs 322 pounds and likely treats 20 ounce steaks as finger food. If anyone wanted to approximate life as Peter Dinklage, they’d need only stand next to Fant for two seconds.
The man is a giant among behemoths — a Himalaya among Alps. Yet, last year at this time, the hype surrounding him was about 10 times bigger.
An undrafted rookie in 2016, Fant seemed to have made unparalleled strides two offseasons ago. On the first day of training camp last year, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Fant was the player whose gains most caught his attention.
It seemed the panacea for Seattle’s protection woes lay in a former basketball player turned left tackle. Then came Week 2 of the preseason, when Fant rolled up his leg in the second quarter and left on a stretcher.
Torn ACL. Out of the season.
This was painful for the Seahawks but devastating for Fant. The former forward at Western Kentucky — where he weighed 245 pounds — seemed to have developed into a legitimate NFL starter.
His strength and size had skyrocketed. His footwork improved exponentially. Testimony suggested the now-third-year player had emerged from his cocoon as a potential Pro Bowler.
Then the 26-year-old learned it would be nearly a year before he’d even be able to practice again. For a brief second, he wondered what the point of it all was.
“I felt like I put all that work in for nothing,” Fant said. “I had a lot of expectations and expected a lot of things.”
The public didn’t see or hear much from Fant after that, but his disappointment was clear to those around him. Asked about him earlier this week, Carroll said Fant was “crushed” by the injury after “putting everything he possibly could into the offseason.”
But it wasn’t long before the melancholy morphed into motivation. And George had his wife to thank for that.
A standout forward at Western Kentucky, Chastity Gooch righted her husband’s mentality almost instantly. She herself had experienced injuries throughout her playing days, but finished her senior season as the Conference USA Player of the Year.
Fant didn’t want to say what she said to him directly. Might not have been safe for a family paper. But it is safe to say her words resonated with George and got him back on the right path — even if he had to use crutches to navigate it.
“(The injury) wasn’t for nothing. I didn’t lose anything,” Fant said. “I haven’t lost confidence in myself at all. I still want to be one of the best in the game.”
Of course, much has changed in the past 12 months since that torn ACL. Last season, the Seahawks acquired Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, who would most certainly keep Fant on the sideline if healthy.
The team has been insistent on keeping Fant at left tackle since coming back to practice, although Carroll said an eventual move to the right side is possible. The main thing right now is trying to ease him back into competition.
“We don’t even want to try to evaluate him for a couple more weeks,” said Carroll, adding that he still sees Fant as “a heck of a prospect. “Just let him keep getting back and showing what he can do right now.”
There wasn’t much talk about Fant after the game Thursday night, but he did play against the Colts. And even though it isn’t time to evaluate him yet, that doesn’t mean he can’t feel a great sense of achievement.
It had been nearly a year since he had played in front of tens of thousands of people, and shortly after taking the field, he took to Twitter to express himself.
“So happy to step back on CenturyLink Field last night,” Fant said. “So many emotions last night and it’s been a long road back.”
With injuries to fellow tackles Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Battle on Thursday, Fant’s chances to impact the Seahawks this year grew. The man who “still wants to be one of the best in the game,” as he said, might get to help his team sooner than expected.
At this point, the hype has disappeared. Now is Fant’s chance to show that he hasn’t.