Give the Guy a Break : When You're as Multitalented as Oceanside's Junior Seau, You Become a Marked Man Both On and Off the Field of Play

It's lunch time at Oceanside High School, and Junior Seau is finally getting a break.

On the benches outside of the school's cafeteria, Seau--pronounced say-ow --has a few minutes to get away from it all. Away from the recruiters, the phone calls and the minute-to-minute schedules. Away from the pressures of being San Diego County's second-leading scorer in basketball and one of the county's best football players.

Yeah, some break.

Seau, 6-foot 5-inches tall and 215 pounds, barely has time to twist the stem off his apple before a reporter approaches him for an interview. He obliges.

A few minutes later, after Seau just finishes the apple, a student comes running out into the lunch yard. "Hey, Junior. Phone's for you." The call was from the public pay phone located in the lunch area.

"Tell Missy (his girlfriend Melissa) to handle it for me, would you?" Seau asked politely.

"It's unbelievable," Seau said. "These recruiters have the phone number of the public phone. I get calls on it all the time. You think it would stop, but it never does. They (recruiters) still think you might want to change your mind."

Moments later, another reporter walks by and interrupts the interview. He wants to give Seau some pictures.

"That would be great," Seau says graciously. "Meet me in the coaches' office in a few minutes."

A few minutes later, Oceanside basketball Coach Don Montamble comes out to the lunch yard.

"Hey, June, I need you. Are you almost done?" Montamble asks. "I want you to get some rest before our game tonight."

Rest?

Give Seau a break.

Seau was home watching the college bowl games on New Year's Day, a rarity because Seau spends little time at home these days. The college recruiters never stop calling.

During the week, Seau stays at his girlfriend's house or with one of his aunts or uncles. He sets aside only a little time to talk with recruiters. They must call at his convenience or not at all.

But on New Year's Day, Seau figured it was safe to be home.

"I figured they were all busy coaching," he said.

Seau was watching the Rose Bowl pregame show, waiting for Arizona State to play Michigan, when the phone rang.

John Cooper, Arizona State coach, was on the line. He was calling just to say hello. A week earlier at a football awards banquet, Cooper had presented Seau with an honor and reminded him: "You'll look good in a Sun Devil uniform."

Seau already has visited UCLA, Stanford and Colorado. He visited ASU this past weekend. Wednesday is the first day high school athletes can sign letters of intent, and Seau says he wants to make sure he makes the right decision.

"I just wish I could have prepared Junior better for what's happening to him now," said Roy Scaffidi, Oceanside football coach. "But I've never been around a situation like this before."

Bill Christopher, Seau's former basketball coach and now the Oceanside athletic director, said he's never had any trouble coaching Seau.

"The problem is going to be coaching without him," Christopher said.

Oceanside hasn't had such a player as Seau. He helped lead the Pirate basketball team to a San Diego Section 2-A championship in 1985. He helped lead the Pirate football team to the section's 2-A final last December.

Along with being named The Times' San Diego Lineman of the Year for his play at wide receiver and outside linebacker, Seau made the Parade Magazine All-American team. Because he does so many things well, Parade's position for Seau was "Athlete."

Seau was presented the award at an assembly in the Oceanside gym Jan. 13. More than 1,000 students were allowed to take a break from class to attend, and Charger quarterback Dan Fouts made the presentation.

But the highlight of Seau's day was when Scaffidi announced that the school would retire his football jersey (No. 11). In the 80-year history of Oceanside High School, only two other athletes have had their numbers retired--Arthur Hemingway and C.R. Roberts.

"I didn't expect that," Seau said. "I was in the clouds."

Seau stood before the student body for his acceptance speech.

He thanked the students and faculty for all they had given him and promised one day to give something back to the school and the community.

Seau was so happy he nearly cried.

"Like one of the recruiters said," Christopher said. "There are a lot of All-American high school football players out there, but how many of them would you want to put up in front of your entire student body and say, 'Hey, we want you all to be like this guy.' At most places, they'd probably give the kid his award and rush him off the stage."

Junior Seau comes from a Samoan heritage. His father, Tiaina, and his mother, Luisa, were born on Samoa. Seau was born and reared in Oceanside. His parents gave him his father's name, and he's been Junior ever since.

His two older brothers, David and Savaii, were athletes at Oceanside High, and his uncle, Wally Molifua, is the soccer coach and a teacher there. Junior learned to be competitive early.

During his first two years at Oceanside, Seau was too intense. If he made a bad play, it would stay with him.

Seau has since learned to channel his intensity.

"Now if he gets a couple of fouls, he'll come over to the bench and be able to take a deep breath and forget about it," said Montamble, who took over for Christopher this season. "It's like I've seen him change right in front of me."

But he's still competitive.

One time during a practice last year, Seau got tired of watching one of his teammates getting beat for easy baskets underneath.

"He got that look," Christopher said. "Then the next time down court the same thing was about to happen. His (team's) player was standing behind the post player and was about to get beat for an easy score again. So June left his man and went over and grabbed the kid and shoved him around in front of the other team's offensive player. Then he went back to his man."

Christopher was amazed. So are others who know Seau.

He takes care of the people who take care of him. That's why he's pledged to give something back to the community. That's why, when somebody in the community calls and asks him to speak at a function, he takes the time to do it.

"My dad always told me that whatever somebody puts into something for you, you have to give it back," Seau said. "I wouldn't be where I am now without all of the support of the people in this community and the faculty and staff here."

Christopher recognized Seau's basketball talents and made him a starter in his sophomore year. Christopher also impressed upon Seau that academics were important.

"He was taking a bunch of Mickey Mouse classes and getting by," Christopher said. "He might have been headed in the wrong direction. But the faculty turned him around, and he accepted the challenge."

Seau said: "Coach Christopher would always be checking up on me and he was amazed I was doing so well. I've always gotten a lot of encouragement from him."

Scaffidi came to Oceanside this year to coach football. Seau had played on losing teams his first two years. Scaffidi changed that. He made football fun again, and Seau blossomed, leading the Pirates to the 2-A championship game, where they lost to Lincoln.

"He (Scaffidi) put the icing on the cake," Seau said. "He showed us the love you can have for the sport. He made it more than just a game. It's hard to explain, but I just had more fun. The winning helped too."

Seau's basketball teams at Oceanside have always won--except when he hasn't been there. Seau was still playing football in December when Oceanside started its season 0-5. But since Seau's been on the court, the Pirates are 14-1.

Still, the pressure of the recruiting wars sometimes gets to him.

He went to Montamble's office about a month ago and said he had had enough.

"I sat down with him and I asked him what he wanted to do," Montamble said. "Together, we set some guidelines."

Now, Seau can meet with recruiters only after games. Montamble keeps him away from recruiters and most reporters before Oceanside plays. On days Oceanside doesn't play, Montamble still keeps a tight reign on Seau.

Most of the time, Seau takes things upon himself.

Last year, Oceanside was playing rival El Camino when a fight broke out on the court. Seau was in the middle of it, and was blamed for starting it.

"It wasn't really his fault," Christopher said. "He just went over there to help his teammates out."

Afterward, however, Seau shouldered the blame. Christopher was told by Oceanside school officials to go over to El Camino a few days later to apologize. Seau asked to accompany him.

"He got up in front of their team and told them he was sorry," Christopher said. "It wasn't an easy thing to do."

The other night against Ramona, Oceanside was headed for a victory when a fight broke out in the stands. Again Seau went over to make sure order was restored. Only this time, the fight ended upon his arrival.

Seau helped calm tempers and, along with Montamble, collected team members and led them off the court.

Then he left the gym to face another battle . . . with recruiters.

There just simply aren't any breaks.

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