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He Fights On : Junior Seau Uses Memories of Being Treated as Outsider at USC as Inspiration in NFL

September 01, 1991|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Linebacker Junior Seau stalked off the field, removed his helmet and hurled it to the turf.

Then he carried his tantrum to the Charger defensive coaches.

"We weren't getting a sack," Seau said. "I couldn't believe it. We should have put more pressure on the quarterback. I'm telling them, 'Blow off the scheme we're using and do something else. Do what we've practiced.'

"We were losing, I'm frustrated and I'm thinking, 'Do something more, Junior.' "

It was an exhibition game.

"Junior wants so badly to be successful," said Ron Lynn, Charger defensive coordinator. "And not only to be successful, but I mean to be a giant."

Seau already has the five-year, $4.525-million contract, the $1.14-million house and the Mercedes with the "SAY-55-OW" license plates. Those who have watched him practice this summer have advised him to make plans for a Pro Bowl invitation to Hawaii at season's end.

Junior Seau's quest for greatness, however, has more to do with where he came from than where he is going. It begins at USC and continues with such intensity because of USC.

"I came into college and nobody wanted any part of me," Seau said. "They saw me as a dumb jock, and the university saw me as just another minority coming into the system and trying to use athletics to get through.

"There's no way to erase it. I came into college (under) Proposition 48, and it is a stigma that has really stuck with me. I will use it to benefit me until the day I die."

Seau dominated San Diego County athletics as a standout football, basketball and track performer for Oceanside High, but he scored poorly on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and fell short in English curriculum college entrance requirements.

Seau, admitted to USC under the NCAA proposition denoting academic problems, was ineligible for athletics in his freshman season.

It disappointed him so much that he addressed an assembly of his peers at Oceanside High and apologized for his academic deficiencies.

"He's a very proud person, and he was embarrassed and upset with himself," said Don Montamble, his high school basketball coach. "He got to USC and he was blackballed. They let him eat at the training table, but he ate by himself. It was a real difficult time for him, and it has stayed with him."

Rejection has scarred him, and it has driven him with a vengeance to start anew.

"It was terrible," he said. "I used to walk the campus and not be part of the inner circle. I had no friends. The guys would be mingling on the steps, and that would be the inner circle and they didn't accept me. They were USC. They were the players, and they were looking at a guy who didn't pass his SATs. They didn't want any part of me because they were afraid I might rub off on them."

After an ankle injury limited his contributions in his sophomore season, Seau became a unanimous first-team All-American as a junior at outside linebacker. Then he pounced on the opportunity to become rich in the NFL.

"It was a money decision," he said. "I had the security of my mom and dad in my hands. I don't know how my dad made it, paying the bills while we were growing up, but I owe everything to him and my family."

Seau was 7 and unable to speak English when his parents moved from Samoa to Oceanside. Tiaina, Junior's father for whom he is named, urged his six children to advance by getting into college.

"What people don't understand is their whole family dedicated themselves to Junior's development," Montamble said. "This is truly a culmination of a loving family getting behind someone and really nurturing him to achieve his goals.

"That's why when you talk to him, you feel that overwhelming sense of responsibility on his part to carry the family's financial burden."

Seau purchased a new home for his parents one block from Oceanside's El Camino High, where the elder Seau works as the custodian. Mom and Dad now drive a new car.

"My family stuck by me, but I remember taking a big pounding, even from some of my relatives, when things went bad at USC," he said. "My own blood. That just killed me. I was the dumb jock. The dumb jock.

"My self-esteem had been just blown away. I couldn't have made it there if it wasn't for me wanting to do something for my mom and dad. I promised I'd get them out. I was the family's only chance, and it motivated me."

His first season in professional football became a replay of his freshman year at USC. He was on his own again, out of place at inside linebacker, and was overwhelmed.

"I was lonely," Seau said. "I felt like I shouldn't talk to anyone. I felt like I wasn't doing my part. I felt like I wasn't a player. I had the money, but they didn't look to me to make the big play. I wasn't the guy. I wasn't used to that. I wasn't used to being just another player."

The Chargers had used the fifth pick in the first round of the 1990 NFL draft to select the hometown linebacker. They had made him happy, and he had promised to deliver.

But the smell of money put a chokehold on Seau.

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