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Unger helping 'Hawks rise

By Ed Klajman

Special to the Star-Advertiser

LAST UPDATED: 10:30 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012

TORONTO »After becoming the first team since 1950 to score 50 points in consecutive weeks, the Seattle Seahawks have emerged as a surprise juggernaut that no squad will want to face in the NFL playoffs.

And at the center of it all is South Kona's Max Unger.

Anchoring the offensive line of what has suddenly become the league's most explosive offense, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Hawaii Preparatory Academy grad is getting a lot of attention as a possible Pro Bowl pick.

"I know that's out there, but that's out of my hands so there isn't really a lot that you can do about it besides wasting a lot of energy thinking about it, so I've got to kind of put that away," Unger said in a locker room interview shortly after the Seahawks destroyed the Buffalo Bills 50-17 on Sunday, bringing their record to 9-5 and close to clinching a playoff spot.

The former Oregon Duck did acknowledge that playing in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii would be "awesome," though the perfect scenario would be getting selected for the Pro Bowl but not being able to participate because the Seahawks would be in New Orleans that weekend, getting ready for the Super Bowl the following Sunday.

"Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves," Unger laughed, before admitting that the Seahawk players do believe that they're legitimate title contenders. "It's something we're going to have to fight for pretty hard at this point as a team, and that's definitely within our sights. And I think that's kind of where we're going to. This is the first winning record that we've ensured in my career and it's pretty cool. I think we're kind of figuring it out at the right time. It's pretty exciting."

Fan voting for the Pro Bowl ended Monday, with Unger trailing the top few centers in the NFC, but fan votes account for only one third of the total. The votes of coaches and players are worth one third each, respectively.

On Sunday, Unger will have his best chance of the season to showcase his skills to the league's players and coaches. The Seahawks will be hosting their archrivals, the San Francisco 49ers, in a game that was moved to Sunday night. As the league's marquee matchup of the week, it will be played after all the other games of the day are done.

"We played a Monday night game earlier this year and a Thursday night game earlier this year, but San Fran coming in, this is going to be a big game," Unger said. "There's no question about that."

After being picked in the second round of the 2009 draft, Unger spent his rookie season playing right guard. In 2010, he only played one game because of a toe injury. When he returned to the lineup last year, he was moved back to his natural spot at center, so this is only his second season as a professional at the position.

Still, with Seattle having the second-youngest team in the league, he's relied upon to be one of the team's veteran leaders, playing a key role not just for the offensive line, but in helping rookie quarterback sensation Russell Wilson.

Throughout Sunday's game, as he has done all year, Unger was vocal and active in directing traffic at the line of scrimmage.

"It's kind of the nature of the position," he said. "Centers make a lot of calls. But I think as a group we're really kind of coming along and that's where we try to place the emphasis."

Unger added that, Pro Bowl or not, he still has a lot of learning and improving to do.

"This game is too hard, too difficult to think that you've arrived, at any point in your career," he said. "To have success here takes a lot of work."

He also said he's proud to carry on the Hawaii tradition of producing NFL centers.

"I don't know what the deal is with Hawaiian centers but for some reason there's a lot of them," he said. "My high school coach Bern Brostek, he played at ‘Iolani, and he played center in the NFL for eight or nine years, and there's a bunch of other guys — Samson (Satele), (Dominic) Raiola, it's crazy man, I don't know where it comes from."

During the summer, Unger signed a four-year contract extension, reportedly worth about $25 million, which makes him one of the highest-paid centers in the league.

"After four years in Oregon and now being in Seattle, this is my ninth or 10th year in the Northwest," he said. "It's real close to Hawaii so I couldn't be happier in Seattle and I hope I'll be here for five more years and be able to play this contract out."

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