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Despite grandfather’s advice, Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert chose basketball over football

Dainard Paulson is photographed alongside football memorabilia at his home in Selah, Washington, on Friday. Paulson played in the NFL as a defensive back for the New York Jets from 1961-66. (Shawn Gust / Yakima Herald-Republic)
Dainard Paulson is photographed alongside football memorabilia at his home in Selah, Washington, on Friday. Paulson played in the NFL as a defensive back for the New York Jets from 1961-66. (Shawn Gust / Yakima Herald-Republic)

When Gonzaga guard Corey Kispert visits his grandparents in Selah, Washington, he can barely get a hug in before his grandfather reaches for a football.

Then it’s out to the yard to play a game of catch and review a few plays.

“He’d always try to shove a football in my hands,” Kispert said of his maternal grandfather, Dainard Paulson, who played for the New York Jets in the 1960s. “As soon as I got over there, (he) grabbed the football and we’d go out back and he’d throw with me.”

The 80-year-old Paulson would talk in his grandson’s ear about football and how great he could be. Kispert has always been tall and quick, and he was accurate at quarterback when he played at King’s High in Seattle. He was good enough to attract some of the best teams in the country, Paulson said.

“He could have played in the NFL. He was an accurate thrower,” Paulson said. “I was trying to convince him that, you know, maybe he’s chosen the wrong (sport).”

The wrong sport being basketball, of course. Kispert picked up basketball long before his grandfather convinced him to put his height and strength to work behind an offensive line.

“Even at a young age he was like, ‘Oh, you’re so tall. And you throw the ball over the top of your head. You’d be a great quarterback,’ ” Kispert said. “He’s always on me to play football.”

From the moment Kispert converted to a two-sport athlete, Paulson was molding him to be a standout QB, in hopes that his grandson might follow his footsteps to a football career.

After playing at running back for the Oregon State Beavers in the late 1950s, Paulson signed with the New York Jets’ organization in the American Football League, which was known as the New York Titans at the time. New York converted him to a defensive back and eventually worked him into being a starter and a three-year captain.

Following his first season with the Titans in 1961, Paulson said he took home a paycheck that totaled roughly $7,500.

After six seasons, which included two All-Star honors and 19 interceptions, Paulson left football and began work in the recreational vehicle business. Years later, Paulson retired from the business and bought – and later sold – an orchard in Selah, where he now resides.

His love for football didn’t appear to be a family trait.

“He (Kispert) didn’t follow my dream,” Paulson said.

The football fever never rubbed off on Kispert, an Edmonds native. After playing a couple of years in high school, he decided to focus just on basketball beginning his junior year at King’s High.

It was an easy decision for the Gonzaga freshman, who led his high school team to three consecutive State 1A titles beginning in 2015. Basketball was his “first love” and was easier on the body.

“There’s obviously too many risks of injury (in football),” Kispert said. “I liked hitting 3s better than getting knocked in the face.”

His success on the court in high school earned him a spot in Gonzaga’s rotation shortly following the Bulldogs’ historic 2017 season that resulted in a second-place finish at the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four in April.

This year, Paulson finally gave in and has come to embrace his grandson as a Division I basketball player – and a good one at that. Kispert is averaging 7.9 points in seven starts and 11 games this season and he’s rattled his opponents from 3-point range and in the paint.

Paulson has collected a few Gonzaga shirts and has already made his way to Spokane a couple of times this season to watch Kispert work inside the Kennel, an impressive place to play after high school, Paulson said.

“For him to be a starter as a freshman, and (for) the team that finished up No. 2 in the country last year, that really shows a lot,” Paulson said.

But Paulson hasn’t quite let go of the football dream. He still brings out a football to play catch with Kispert whenever his grandson makes his way back to Selah for a visit.

“I wish him well,” Paulson said.

He paused and laughed to himself.

“But I sure wish he would have played football.”

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