Oct. 27, 2007
By Benton Strong
In football there are two positions that the defense has to key on all the time. Two players that, if not contained, will most likely tear apart a defense and lead the victorious team. Two guys the scout team had to emulate in order to prepare the starters for battle: the quarterback and the tailback. In the life of a defensive lineman these two people bear more importance than anything.
Unless your name is Jordan Reffett.
Instead of passes and handoffs, his focus is hugs and diapers. Instead of quarterback and tailback, it's daughter and wife. Nothing, and certainly not a football game, is above his wife, Nicole, or his daughter, Kendall. Reffett is one of two Washington players that are married (the other is quarterback Carl Bonnell) and the only player married with children. It, however, is hard to imagine Reffett running his household in the same way Al Bundy did.
"He is a good, rounded guy," said teammate and best friend Greyson Gunheim. "His family is definitely a good influence on him and really shows that there are bigger and more important things than the game of football."
On the field, the duo of Gunheim and Reffett have teamed up to lock down the left side of the defensive line for the fourth year in a row. The two seniors have been next to each other their entire careers and friendship was inevitable, but maybe not to this extent.
Gunheim spends his Monday's at the Reffett household having family dinner. He helps baby-sit Kendall and has been a key part of the support that every family, especially a young one, values so much.
"I'll tell you what, that guy is a special guy," Reffett said about his best friend. "Whenever I've needed anything with my family he has been there. He just drops everything to help out and my wife and I appreciate him."
To hear Gunheim tell the story it sounds like having Reffett as a friend has helped him, and the team, more than he has helped his friend. "I baby-sit his kids and hang out at his house," Gunheim said. "In the future I'm hoping this will help me with my parenting skills. I love kids so it is a lot of fun for me. And I if I wasn't hanging out with them I'd probably be pretty bored."
As for the team, there is an affect that many college athletic teams don't have the benefit of seeing. When football is everything, then everything else means very little. But, with a guy like Reffett on the team, with the experiences he has had, everything takes on a different meaning.
"I hope that it brings a lot to the team," Reffett said. "I hope that the guys understand that I've been through a lot. I have a lot of football knowledge and I have a lot of life knowledge. I'm 24 years old with a family and a daughter. It's good for these kids to know that I'm here because this football team is a family and I'm here to help them out."
Reffett's impact on his teammates has definitely not gone unnoticed. Last year, he earned the most prestigious Husky Football award voted on by his teammates, when he won the Guy Flaherty Award, given annually to the team's most inspirational player. Considering how Reffett has balanced his family, football and school, it's pretty easy to understand why he won the award.
"Being a college football player at a big program is about responsibility," he said. "There are schedules to uphold and things you have to get done. Time management and things like that are so important. It has helped me to not get nervous about getting things done because I know I can get them done."
He knows because everything is only a small part of what is going on in his life. So many things are more important and everything has an effect on what is most important.
"My life has changed dramatically," he said. "Everything I do now is for my family. My life is invested in the success of my family and everything is a little more serious because all of my choices have lasting effects. I have a little more incentive to get to the next level [of football] because I want to be able to take care of my family."
While Reffett's situation is unique, he is not the first student-athlete to raise a family while playing sports. Husky fans might also remember another former Washington athlete and current U.S. National Soccer Team member, the former Tina Frimpong from her time in purple and gold.
Frimpong (now Ellertson) had a child just before coming to Washington and decided to come anyway, a choice women's soccer coach Lesle Gallimore thinks helped her greatly.
"I think having a team provided great support for her," Gallimore said. "She had a network of 28 babysitters she could go to and she was the type of person that people wanted to help.
"Being a student-athlete is difficult in the first place, but being a parent is probably the most difficult job in the world. Clearly she had to be strong, but she also had to accept the help that was offered to her. She set a great example for the team when it came to prioritizing, because Mackenzie was her number one priority and yet Tina was able to achieve in athletics.
"Sports are sports. We obviously want to compete and win, but it isn't brain surgery or some life-saving thing. If all athletes could get that perspective given to them in the beginning then the pressure-packed situations in sports wouldn't be hard at all."
Gallimore went on to say how the fact that Ellertson was also so good was just an indicator of how hard she worked. There was a good parent in her and also a good athlete.
There is also a good football player in this 6-6, 295 pound father. It seems like every big defensive play around the line of scrimmage has a number 95 stamp on it. He is tied for third on the team in sacks this year and has been a solid part of the defensive line for a few years. But even when he is playing his football role, his daughter makes her mark.
At a press conference several weeks ago Reffett came walking in with a little girl in a pink jacket and sunglasses sneaking up behind him. Most of the players that were there spent the time playing with Kendall and when Reffett was doing his interviews, it was his daughter causing the trouble, nicking a cookie out of the bag of a reporter and offering them to that reporter, who had no idea they were his in the first place.
It is funny moments like that, and many more with teammates that will make Reffett's experience at Washington a fond memory when he one day looks back at his college years.
"My time here has been amazing," he said. "I would not trade it in for any other experience. I've been here since January 2003 and it's been a rollercoaster ride. But I've learned so much and gained so much character from being on the football team.
"I am a Dawg through and through. I think later on down the road I'm going to appreciate all the experiences I've had here because they have made me so much stronger."
Reffett more than thinks that, he knows it. Unlike the typical college student, he chose a different path, which included marriage and fatherhood. And in the process, he learned just how important every little thing could be.
"Being accountable as a parent is probably the biggest responsibility a person can have," Gallimore said. "In sports you only get the negative example about how many kids athletes have, but this is just like Tina was. [Jordan] is stepping up and raising a child, along with his wife as well."
Reffett owes a lot of his success as a family man to the support groups around him. And when football is done for Reffett, he will still have the likes of Gunheim around.
"Our relationship has definitely grown a lot over the years," Gunheim said. "We always say that when we get old and retire we will move in next to each other."
By then, it might be next to Grandpa Jordan.