Darren Comeaux has to admit that there were times when he wondered if his determination to succeed in football was worth the struggle.
Being unwanted out of high school, undrafted out of college and released four times in the NFL tends to sap a player's confidence.
As Comeaux put it the other day, "I had to tell myself not to let it get to me."
But Comeaux kept plugging, and when the Seattle Seahawks meet the Chargers on Sunday in the Seattle Kingdome, the alumnus of San Diego High, Mesa College and Arizona State will be starting at middle linebacker against his hometown team.
"This is special for me," Comeaux said. "I'm getting a little excited."
Actually, Comeaux (pronounced COMO) has reason to be excited just about the success he has finally achieved after more years of frustration than he cares to remember.
In a pro career that began in 1982 with the Denver Broncos and also included a term with the San Francisco 49ers, Comeaux never started a game until late in the 1988 season. Even then, he was considered a fill-in, having gotten his chance only because of a shoulder injury to Brian Bosworth.
When Bosworth's injury forced him out of football for good early last season, Comeaux replaced him a second time. Now, at 30, he feels as though his career has just begun.
"As the middle backer, I take control of the defense," Comeaux said. "I have a lot of responsibility and I like that."
True, there still is the question of what will happen when Dave Wyman returns after injuring his knee in training camp.
Both Comeaux and Wyman were regulars last season, but that was when the Seahawks played a 3-4 defense. Coach Chuck Knox switched to a 4-3 this year, and until Wyman got hurt, Comeaux was scheduled to play left linebacker, a position now occupied by rookie Terry Wooden.
Still, it would seem that Comeaux has no immediate cause for concern. Overall, he has done an outstanding job, and leads the Seahawks in tackles with 40, including a high of nine against the Raiders Oct. 14.
In the 3-4 defense, Comeaux was the strong inside linebacker. Starting the last 13 games in 1989, he was third on the team in tackles with 91. Moving to the middle in the 4-3 required an adjustment, but he welcomed the change.
"It blends in with what I like to do," Comeaux said. "I move around more, and I'm more in the flow of the game."
Like countless other NFL players who have to make it the hard way, Comeaux paid his dues on special teams. He paid so much, in fact, that until Bosworth was injured, he appeared destined to spend his career on special teams.
Even that, though, wouldn't have been a bad deal considering what Comeaux went through just to establish himself in the NFL. Not only did he have to cope with lack of respect; he suffered a broken foot, a broken thumb, a knee injury and a hamstring injury.
As it turned out, Comeaux's last of three stints on injured reserve led to his big break. When the 49ers tried to activate him in October, 1988, by putting him through waivers, the Seahawks claimed him. Three weeks later, he was starting.
"It felt good to be able to show what I knew I could do," he said. "It was pretty frustrating all those years. I didn't let myself mope about it, but it was time to stop thinking about it and do it."
Said Knox, "Darren has played very well. He's a battler and a scrapper, and he works hard and prepares well. He's the kind of guy you want on your football team."
To get the picture of Comeaux's lengthy climb uphill, check the following:
1982--Overlooked in NFL draft. Signed as free agent with the Broncos.
1982--On injured reserve with broken foot, Sept. 7-Dec. 15.
1983--Released by the Broncos Aug. 29. Re-signed by the Broncos Sept. 13.
1985--On injured reserve with broken thumb, Oct. 16-Nov. 21.
1987--Released by the Broncos, Sept. 7. Signed by the 49ers as a replacement player during the strike, Oct. 8. Released by the 49ers, Nov. 3. Re-signed by the 49ers, Nov. 6.
1988--On injured reserve with knee and hamstring injuries, Aug. 29-Oct. 12. Acquired by the Seahawks on waivers, Oct. 14.
Comeaux's five-year tenure with the Broncos ended with his career highlight to date--Super Bowl XXI.
Although he was a replacement player with the 49ers in 1987, he wants to make it clear that he didn't cross the picket line until Joe Montana and other 49er veterans did.
"Several teams contacted me when the strike started, but I was waiting for the strike to end before signing with anybody," he said.
Although the 6-foot-1 Comeaux now weighs 240 pounds, he was a mere 195 at San Diego High, and therein lies a good reason he didn't interest college scouts.
"I was the second-biggest guy on the team, so they made me a tackle," Comeaux said.
Comeaux also was a standout in basketball and track in high school, and Stan Murphy, his football coach and also an assistant in track, recalled how versatile he was. Murphy no longer coaches, but is still on the San Diego High faculty.
"Darren usually played the whole game for us," Murphy said. "He even kicked off and punted. He was an outstanding player and an outstanding young man--always agreeable, very intelligent and very humble. He would sacrifice for the team.
"In basketball he played center, and in track he did just about everything. He held the school record in the discus, he was a shotputter, and he did the high jump and long jump.
" One time against Morse we needed somebody for the mile relay. He had never trained for the event, but he volunteered to do it. He ran the first leg, and we were all shocked at the way he ran."
At Mesa College, football Coach Len Smorin converted Comeaux into an outside linebacker. San Diego State was among the schools that offered him a scholarship after two years at Mesa, but lost out to Arizona State.
"I got my weight up to 215, but not until my senior year, and the pro scouts thought I was too small," Comeaux said.