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Candidates' Sons Similar in Many Ways : Yusef Jackson and Jimmy Kemp Are Both Star Football Players

November 11, 1987|JOHN FEINSTEIN | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — In a sense, Yusef Jackson and Jimmy Kemp are as different as two teen-agers can be.

One is black, the other white. One grew up in the Midwest but attends boarding school in the East. The other grew up in suburban Maryland and goes to public school there. One is a Democrat, a liberal under almost any definition of the word. The other is a Republican and a self-described conservative.

But the similarities between the two are more striking than the differences.

Both are very good high-school football players, each the younger brother of a star player who played under the same coach at the same school. Each is a fourth child and a second son and has had to deal with expectations thrust upon them because of the success of their older brothers. Each is from a close family.

And, each has a father who has ambitions to become president.

"When people label me 'Jesse Jackson's son', I don't worry about it," Yusef Jackson said recently. "All they're doing is telling the truth. I play football because I like it. My father is like any other father when it comes to my football." He paused and smiled. "He's a critic."

So is Jack Kemp. He is as conservative and Republican as Jesse Jackson is liberal and Democratic. Jesse Jackson was a star linebacker in college but Kemp went one step further, starring throughout the 1960s for the Buffalo Bills. If you listen to his son tell the story, it was football that got Jack Kemp into Congress 17 years and nine elections ago.

"My dad was in a very close race that year," Jimmy Kemp said, laughing because he was telling a story his father enjoys telling on himself. "A television reporter asked him one day what he would do if he lost the election. My dad had two years left on his contract so he just told him he'd probably go back and play quarterback for the Bills.

"That night the guy, his name was Irv Weinstein, went on the news and said, 'Today, Jack Kemp issued a warning to all Buffalo football fans saying that if he is not elected to Congress, he will return to play quarterback for the Bills next season.' "

Jimmy Kemp smiled as he delivered the punch line. "My dad won by one percent of the vote."

The kid has the makings of a great politician.

First, though, there is football. Jimmy Kemp is 12 years younger than his brother Jeff, who played at Churchill High School, then at Dartmouth and is now with the Seattle Seahawks after stints with the Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

Jeff Kemp's eight-year career in the NFL is nothing short of amazing to Fred Shepherd, the man who has coached both Kemps in high school.

"Jimmy is so much better at this stage of his life than Jeff was--it's unbelievable," Shepherd said. "Jeff didn't even start until he was a senior. If you had asked me then if he would ever play in the pros, I would have said, 'Never, never, never.' We've had a lot of kids play here over the years who were better high school quarterbacks than Jeff Kemp. But you can't measure what's inside a youngster."

Genetics may have a lot to do with it. Jeff and Jimmy Kemp were never pushed to play football or to be quarterbacks, but they were never discouraged from looking in that direction, either.

"When I was young, Sunday was always football day in our house," Jimmy Kemp said. "When Jeff was in high school, he and my dad would talk about every game he played in detail, go through mistakes and things. Usually, in the afternoon I would go out in the yard by myself and play. I was always Roger Staubach--he was my big hero back then. That was when I was like 4 or 5. When I got old enough to play, I was a halfback and a quarterback for one year but after that I was always a quarterback. I could throw pretty well for my age."

Kemp can still throw well for his age. Although he is only a junior, he is already as big as his brother at 6 foot and 173 pounds. The two work out in the summer, often playing games on the beach to see who has a stronger, more accurate arm.

"It's funny, because I've always been a lot more aware of the fact that Jeff was a quarterback than I was aware of my dad being a quarterback," the youngest Kemp said. "By the time I was born, my father had retired and was already in Congress so that's the way I've thought of him. But ever since I can remember, Jeff's been a quarterback."

Now that Jimmy is a quarterback, too, he has two critics in the family. This being the age of the VCR, he and his father go through a tape of his game each Saturday. Often, he and his brother talk the game through by phone after that.

"Jimmy is lucky because he grew up with Jeff as a role model," Jack Kemp said. "He's more of a natural quarterback than Jeff, but Jeff really worked to make himself into a quarterback. They're both tenacious, though, and that makes them good football players."

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