RENTON, Wash. – Everyone has seen the gaudy numbers T.J. Houshmandzadeh put up in Cincinnati, seen the pony tail and the tattoos, even heard the interviews where he sounds like he might just be another overconfident receiver.
But there’s another side to the Seahawks’ biggest offseason acquisition, a side far fewer people have seen.
Houshmandzadeh found a group of University of Washington football players standing on the sideline, watching as the Seahawks held practice at Husky Stadium on Aug. 9. Two had backgrounds like Houshmandzadeh – they were Southern California raised and had taken the junior college route to the Pac-10.
Sure, they talked football, but then he hammered home his more important message. One he wished somebody would have told him years ago.
“They kind of came up the same way I came up,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I was just trying to give them the type of advice I wish I had gotten. I told them that not everybody is going to make the NFL, that’s just not going to happen, but to take advantage of the opportunity that they have to go to school for free. That’s it, because at the end of the day, if you don’t make it at least you want to have something you can fall back on to have a good life for your family.”
Houshmandzadeh didn’t take school seriously enough, but got away with it. He didn’t graduate from Barstow High School, but did well enough at Cerritos Junior College to get into Oregon State. There he spent most of his time worrying about football and left OSU without a degree. Eight years later, he’s on a sideline talking to young athletes: “Don’t be stupid like I was. Make sure you get a degree out of this.”
“I didn’t have nobody telling me that, and they probably won’t listen, but they’ll at least remember me telling them that,” he said.
The people hearing the message, and the people who have preached it before, say it means more coming from him than a parent or a coach.
“I don’t think there’s any question that a young kid that’s a freshman or sophomore in college is going to listen to a guy like T.J. Houshmandzadeh who has a great résumé and has made it to the Pro Bowl, more than they are a 52-year old coach like myself,” said Tim Lappano, Houshmandzadeh’s offensive coordinator at Oregon State who is now the tight ends coach for the Detroit Lions. He spent the past four seasons as the UW’s offensive coordinator.
And for college athletes, some quality time with a Pro-Bowl receiver won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
“I think it’s a big thing for pro guys to come out and talk to us like that and tell us the right thing,” UW cornerback Quinton Richardson said. “The first thing he emphasized was the importance of getting our education, and I really appreciate that. That’s not something we always here from the older guys, I really respect that.”
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