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Army, Air Force kids find success

Military backgrounds set local Huskies apart

‘There’s a sense of discipline and there’s a sense of responsibility,’ head coach says

Published: 01:09PM October 3rd, 2013

SEATTLE — Steve Sarkisian, head football coach for the University of Washington, said while his staff doesn’t target high school recruits from military families, their military backgrounds still stand out.

“I do think there is a sense of discipline and there’s a sense of responsibility,” Sarkisian said. “Generally, the three kids on our roster, we have zero problems with.”

Two of those three Huskies grew up on then-Fort Lewis — senior defensive tackle Sione Potoa’e and junior linebacker Jamaal Kearse. Junior running back Bishop Sankey spent his high school years at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane.

Potoa’e and Kearse were key components to the special teams for No. 15 ranked (Associated Press Top 25 poll) Washington as they remained undefeated with a 31-13 win over Pacific-12 conference rival Arizona Sept. 28.

While both are second on the defensive depth chart at their positions, they keep themselves ready to answer the call from the coach.

“Wherever they need me, my goal is to be as productive as I can,” Kearse said.

The road to Montlake for Kearse and Potoa’e had plenty of hurdles while they focused on school and earned their chance to play in purple and gold.

Since 1997, the Potoa’e family has called Fort Lewis home. His father, Aleki, was a first sergeant who deployed to Iraq multiple times.

Potoa’e helped lead Lakes High School to a state championship in 2009. He also played in the U.S. Army All-American Game and was listed as a highly ranked recruit for Washington, but his father’s deployments prevented him from attending games.

So when his father was able to attend Husky games the last few years, it meant a lot to Potoa’e.

“He made it obvious that he was proud of me,” Potoa’e said. “He never made it to a college game or any NFL game.”

Kearse said a parent’s deployment always sticks in the back of your mind growing up. Up until he was a freshman in high school, his father David was eligible for deployment to Kuwait.

“Just the thought of them always being able to be deployed, that can cause a big worry in the back of your mind,” Kearse said.

Kearse learned his dad was medically disqualified for deployment just as he was warming up for a basketball game at Lakes High School.

“I looked over to the bench and I was shocked,” Kearse said. “‘Hey, you’re supposed to be gone.’ I thought I was tripping.”

Shortly thereafter, his father passed away from complications related to sleep apnea. When it came time to commit, it was easy to choose Washington based on his dad’s favorite school. That’s where his older brother Jermaine played before he was signed to the Seattle Seahawks.

“When he passed away ... That’s where he wanted us to go,” Kearse said. “It was always No. 1.”

Both Potoa’e and Kearse learned valuable lessons from their Army fathers they’ve carried into football, they will continue to do so whether they play professionally or focus on life after sports.

“My dad taught me a lot and one thing that stuck with me was work ethic,” Potoa’e said. “I honestly believe that’s what got me here and kept me here for four years.”

For Kearse, he said growing up in a military family has taught him to be adjustable to what life brings you — whether it’s a parent being sent overseas or passing away unexpectedly.

Kearse said a good piece of advice for children growing up in military families who want to play sports is to “roll with the punches” and prepare for whatever can happen.

“You don’t want it to creep up and overwhelm your mind,” Kearse said. “You want to control the effect that it has on you.”

For Sankey, he came from a military family that moved around — from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to Fairchild AFB in Spokane.

His advice for military youths wanting to pursue an athletic career is to have a strong foundation and continue working hard toward your dreams, especially if a child is moved from school to school.

“You’re going to move to different areas and you’re always going to be the new kid,” Sankey said. “It’s important to have those values that you learned early in life.”