Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Interview Part 2: Jason Sehorn, Special Things

Bowen Field in Bluefield, Va., in 1983 or 1984. Jason Sehorn played at Bowen in 1990 as a member of the Huntington Cubs. (Vickie Biagini)
Part 1: Let's Go | Part 2: Special Things | Part 3: Good Time

Far from the lights of the National Football League and cities like New York and Dallas, Jason Sehorn played the summer of 1990 in the Appalachian Baseball League, in cities like Kingsport, Tenn., Pulaski, Va. and Bluefield, Va.

In an echo of things to come, there was also a Bristol. But this wasn't the Bristol of ESPN and Connecticut. This was the Bristol of the mountains Virginia and Tennessee.

"You spend time bouncing around from cities like Johnson City, Tenn., Elizabethton, Tenn., just these cool little towns," Sehorn recalled of his time playing for the rookie-level Huntington Cubs.

In Huntington, home of Marshall University, the team drew fans, Sehorn recalled, as many as 3,000 in a night.

That was fun, he said.

"I enjoyed that part of it," Sehorn recalled. "I enjoyed the game, I just realized that it was going to take a lot of work to really be good and, if I was going to put that much work into something, it was going to be football."

Sehorn ultimately did put that work into football. And he eventually played in front of crowds much bigger than 3,000 fans.
Wrigley Field in 1989. Jason Sehorn signed with the Cubs that year and played a season of minor league baseball. (G21D Photo)
Sehorn spoke with The Greatest 21 Days by phone recently from Connecticut, where he was readying for his third season as a college football analyst for ESPNU.

Sehorn spoke about his time growing up in California playing multiple sports but not so much in an organized way. He also described how he got into baseball, a game he never played in high school, but got into in American Legion ball on the invitation from some friends that soon turned into a season in minor league baseball.

Sehorn then talked about his football career, his return to college and his rise from junior college to the University of Southern California and then the New York Giants. From there, he spoke about coming back from injury, and one legendary interception in the 2001 NFL playoffs.

Sehorn started out in college as a receiver, then turned safety and cornerback and then became a full-time cornerback in New York.

As a Huntington Cub, though, Sehorn played center field. That was where his speed and his quickness seemed to serve him the most.
The Wrigley Field scoreboard in 1988. Had he made it in baseball, Jason Sehorn would have played here. (G21D Photo)
"They put me in center field, let me roam around and have some fun," Sehorn recalled. "I enjoyed that part of it. It was just learning how to hit was going to take a lot of work."

And the hitting part showed up in his season stats. In 49 games for Huntington, 125 total at bats, Sehorn managed only 23 hits, and a single home run. That performance amounted to a batting average of just .184.

When he did get on base, though, he ran. He stole nine bases.

Sehorn stayed with the Cubs at season's end, and they kept him. It was just, Sehorn isn't sure the Cubs actually knew what he did next, right after Huntington played its last game.

"I think the season ended on a Friday night," Sehorn recalled. "The next morning I was in my car, drove from Huntington, W.V., out to California. I was at my junior college on Monday and I was in football practice on Monday afternoon."

That school was Shasta College in Redding, Ca., about an hour south of where Sehorn grew up. He then spent the fall playing the game he really wanted to play, football.

Come spring 1991, Sehorn reported back to the Cubs and spring training. But it didn't last. By the time spring training was over, the two parted ways.
Wrigley Field in 1988. A Cubs scout signed Jason Sehorn in 1989 to play baseball. (G21D Photo)
"It was fine," Sehorn said, "and it might have worked had I worked at it, and I didn't.  I spent so much time playing football and basketball, running track when I went back to junior college, that the only time I played baseball was when I was there."

Sehorn just wasn't spending the time in the hitting cage in the off-season. He was having fun at other sports.

"There's a reason athletes aren't professionals at every sport," Sehorn said, "because some of them they're just better at and I was just better at football."

So, Sehorn went back to football.

He played his first two seasons at Shasta under coach Sonny Stupek, winning accolaides as a wide receiver. Sehorn became a two-time Junior College All-American at that position. Soon, USC came calling.

Sehorn recalled that, as a California kid, USC was the school to be at. He wanted to go there. So the decision to go wasn't a hard one, he recalled.

"When they came calling and offered the scholarship," Sehorn said, "I was like, 'I'm in.'"
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of the USC Trojans. Jason Sehorn played at USC in 1993 and 1994. (USCTrojans.com)
After starting out in places like Mount Shasta in far northern California and Redding, with a detour in Huntington, Sehorn had made it to Los Angeles and the University of Southern California.

"It was an adjustment period, I'll tell you that much," Sehorn said, "going from those towns and those cities to USC. No doubt - no doubt."

With the bigger school and bigger city also came bigger competition. It was a competition that quickly moved Sehorn to the other side of the ball.

USC, he recalled, was already set at wide receiver with Johnnie Morton and Curtis Conway. With only two years of eligibility left as a junior college transfer, Sehorn needed to make his mark elsewhere and that was on defense, at cornerback.

The move required Sehorn learn a whole different style of running - running backwards, back-peddling.

"Once I got the hang of it, it was no problem," Sehorn recalled. "It's a position on the football field where athletic ability really pays off. If you've got some, no doubt you can do some special things."

And Sehorn did go on to do special things, doing them in the NFL.

Go to Part 3: Jason Sehorn, Good Time

Part 1: Let's Go | Part 2: Special Things | Part 3: Good Time

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