It’s a quiet gesture of respect, and one reserved for more than just family.
For his senior year at Idaho, linebacker Homer Mauga has changed his jersey number from 19 to 55 to honor his cousin Junior Seau.
A former star NFL linebacker, Seau committed suicide on May 2.
Seau’s 55 was retired by the San Diego Chargers after his death. At Idaho, Mauga will wear the number while fellow linebacker Robert Siavii said he’ll put a small 55 sticker inside his helmet during games.
“I was heartbroken too,” Siavii said. “I’m not even his family member, but as soon as I found out, I got 55 on (the back) of my helmet. I just dedicate this season to him too because he was a big inspiration growing up.”
Seau’s death came almost a year after Mauga was at Seau’s house in Oceanside, Calif., for a Memorial Day celebration. Seau’s mother and Mauga’s mother are sisters, and the holiday was spent with lots of family.
“Coming this year, it was close to Memorial Day too,” Mauga said.
“It was just a shocking moment. I called my dad that morning and just heard him in tears. Ever since then my parents have been with his parents and they’ve just been continuing to pray for them.”
In the months since, Siavii said Mauga has rarely talked about losing his cousin. Still, Siavii can tell it’s taken a toll.
“It’s family. Once a family member is gone, you’re heart is broken,” Siavii said. “That’s exactly what he shows.”
Eleven days after Seau died, Idaho receiver Ken McRoyal was shot and killed, adding an additional layer of shock and grief for Mauga.
The Vandals’ outside linebacker said he’s devoting the season to his cousin and McRoyal, whom he referred to as his brother.