RENTON — Cooper Helfet doesn’t figure to stay a secret long.
After spending much of the past two seasons on the practice squad with the Seahawks, Helfet appears on track to make the 53-man roster as the team’s third tight end.
“He can catch the ball as well as anybody on the team,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said earlier this week.
And playing a potentially key role on a defending Super Bowl champion team means that Helfet’s own secrets don’t figure to stay hidden much longer, either, even if he’d like them to.
Not that there’s anything scandalous afloat. Helfet merely began pursuing a side career this summer as a model, posing for a few photo shoots, including one for The Gentleman’s Closet, which bills itself as “The 1st Men’s Style Haus” in Los Angeles and is located on Sunset Blvd.
It happened by chance, Helfet said, when he attended a fashion showroom in New York during Super Bowl week and got recruited to do a shoot, with one leading to the next leading to another.
Asked the reaction of his teammates to his off-field job, Helfet smiled and said “none of them have found out too much about it yet. So keep it on the hush-hush.”
Good luck with that if Helfet regularly makes on Sunday afternoons this fall the kind of catch he made Thursday night in Denver. With Seattle facing a third-and-20 late in the second quarter, Helfet caught a 20-yard a pass from Tarvaris Jackson down the middle to pick up a first down and key a drive for a field goal.
Sunday, asked who was standing out among the three tight ends competing for the third spot behind starter Zach Miller and backup Luke Willson, Carroll mentioned only Helfet.
“Cooper has just done a fantastic job,” Carroll said. “He’s been here a long time with us, kind of in the background. He’s the strongest, fastest, smartest he’s been, and it shows up.”
Helfet, who played at Duke, arrived in Seattle at the same time as Russell Wilson, signed as an undrafted free agent.
After being waived during training camp, he was signed to the practice squad in December 2012, and then spent all of last season again on the practice squad.
A legitimate shot at a spot on the 53-man active roster opened up wide for Helfet in July in the unfortunate manner it often does in football — an injury to a teammate. In this case, it was four-year vet Anthony McCoy, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the fourth practice of camp.
Helfet says McCoy has been “a mentor” to him and that he wants to honor the loss of McCoy by “coming out here and trying to make those plays that I know I can make.”
Helfet’s trademark during his time with the Seahawks has been his consistent hands, which he credits in part to a versatile sports background.
He played a year of lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University, explaining that some injuries his senior year of high school took away some football-scholarship opportunities.
Helfet liked lacrosse — he played an attacker position that is similar to a point guard in basketball — but said his passion was with football.
So he left Johns Hopkins after his freshman year and transferred to Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College to revive his football career, later earning a scholarship to Duke, where he caught 77 passes in two seasons.
The 6-foot-3, 239-pound Helfet also played basketball at Redwood High in Larkspur, Calif. — also the alma mater of Carroll — initially as a power forward before moving to point guard as a senior. He was good enough to even get a few scholarship offers from smaller schools for basketball.
“I think a lot of hand-eye coordination stuff carries over from sport to sport,” he said.
Now, Carroll says, Helfet’s blocking is catching up with his receiving ability, further increasing his chances to make the team.
A busy fall might mean putting the modeling on the back burner for a while, though Helfet says that’s just fine.
“It was fun,” he said. “I got a bunch of free clothes. But now it’s back to real work.”
• Rookie defensive lineman Cassius Marsh was scheduled to have an MRI on his knee after being injured in practice Wednesday. Marsh got caught up with two players during a running drill and fell to the ground. Marsh, a fourth-round pick out of UCLA, has had an impressive training camp, making a sack against Denver, one of four tackles he made in the game.